Frequently Asked Questions
You know the sheriff’s budget includes dispatch and emergency services right? Why do you want to defund them, too?
We don’t want to defund dispatch and emergency services. When we say defund the Sheriff’s Department, we are talking about defunding very specific items within the department, not the entire thing. We are pushing for a smaller budget for firearms and ammo, for example. The main area we want to defund is patrol, which in 2020 had a budget of $1,282,742* which was 27% of the Sheriff’s Department’s total $4,745,388 budget.
*This number represents two line items: Patrol salaries ($1,269,431) and Patrol ($13,311) combined.
But there’s already not enough patrol officers! Why would you want to get rid of the ones we have?
The idea that there are not enough patrol officers is subjective, and the narrative that there are not enough officers is one that is heavily pushed by police departments themselves, not community advocates. We believe that patrol is an ineffective and expensive form of policing. Studies have been done to back up this idea, the most famous one being the Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment. The main points of the study show that random patrolling has no effect on crime rate, or the rate at which citizens report crimes to the police. It also showed that, within that particular department, 60% of officers’ time was spent “noncommitted” or sitting around waiting for a crime to be reported. That is a lot of paid time with no measurable benefit to the community.
Who will protect us from crime?
Defunding patrol does not mean that there will be no police department in Teton County. As the Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment states, patrol presence does not decrease the crime rate. Crime will still happen, and the police will still respond to it. Additionally, the most common type of crime committed in Teton County is theft. Why does theft happen? There are many studies that show the relationship between poverty and theft. A person living in poverty is more likely to commit theft than a more affluent person, simply because they have needs that are not being fulfilled. In the words of novelist Pearl S. Buck, “Hunger makes a thief of any man.” The other side of that coin is that there are also studies that show that an increase in social services like access to health care reduces crime rates. If we divest from the police, which will not make us less safe, we can then invest in social services, which will make us more safe. In other words, who keeps us safe? We keep us safe.
What about more serious crime like assault and domestic violence?
Part of the answer to this question is the same as above. Studies show that there is a correlation between poverty and violent crime. Again, most crime is not random- it happens because the perpetrator has a need that society is not meeting. If we conduct a community needs survey, we will be able to determine which areas of our budget need more funding, and other improvements we can make to residents’ quality of life, and the crime rate (both violent and non-violent) should drop.
We also understand that a large portion of assault in Teton County happens because we have a large tourist population coming in and out of town, and an active bar scene. Many of these cases involve alcohol and other substances. If a person is drunk late at night, there are currently very few options for them to get home safely, and virtually no places for them to spend time sobering up aside from spending the night in jail, which is often the case. Imagine if we funded a program that provides rides to those who are too drunk to drive themselves home after the buses stop running for the night, or a program that provides a safe space for a drunk person to sober up before getting themselves home in the morning, without fear of arrest? Wouldn’t this make our population safer while they’re out drinking at night? People are not going to stop going to the bars in Teton County; we need to find a way to make us safer when we do.
Furthermore, we have organizations whose job is specifically to help victims of assault, like the Community Safety Network and Victim Services. The police’s top priority is not to keep victims safe; it is to arrest perpetrators of assault. After that, the court system deals with them, which often leads to light punishments and recidivism among the perpetrating population. Imagine, if instead of funding a police department that only deals with assault after the fact, we funded programs that educate the population to prevent assaults from happening in the first place.
Another important point to make on this matter is that domestic violence shelters and police have historically had a strained relationship. Many shelters encourage victims not to go to the police, because the process of handling domestic violence through the police can often be traumatizing for the victim, and not handled appropriately. It is also important to note that studies have shown that police themselves are often perpetrators of domestic violence. A study have shown that at least 40% of U.S. police officer families experience domestic violence. Teton County is not immune to this, as evidenced by the case of Jimmy Corona, a former JPD officer who had a history of abusive behavior toward his fiance, and who, after being arrested in 2019, received unsupervised probation, which his fiance called nothing more than a slap on the wrist. In this situation, the News & Guide reported that “police officials decided it was a possible conflict of interest to be responding to emergency calls at a former officer’s house and asked the Teton County Sheriff’s Office to respond should there be more.” The police themselves have admitted that, when it comes to officer-related domestic violence, they are not the best people to call, because they are likely to support the officer and not the victim. This shows that their loyalty lies with their fellow officers first, and the citizens they claim to protect second. We need to invest in organizations whose main priority is the victim in every single domestic violence or assault situation, whether an officer is the perpetrator or not.
Where exactly are you suggesting that the defunded police budget goes?
We are not making specific budget reallocation suggestions for various reasons, mainly because, as private citizens we do not have all of the information we need to make informed budget decisions like that. We can tell the Commissioners what initiatives we personally think should be funded, but what the county really needs to do is:
1) A community needs survey that helps us learn what specific things people in the community need
2) A survey of local human services organizations to see what funds they need to provide these services
Without that specific info any suggestions we make would simply be a bunch of well-intentioned but uninformed citizens taking a stab in the dark at what organizations sound nice to us. Rather than push for funds to be allocated to specific things, we are pushing for the Commissioners themselves (or some other county body) to enact these surveys so that they can make more informed budget decisions based on our specific community’s needs. They are the budget experts, and we do not have the resources to do that part of the job for them.