Defund the police?

In Winnipeg, a growing group of Mennonites questions the role of law enforcement

September 22, 2021 | Feature | Volume 25 Issue 20
Aaron Epp | Online Media Manager
The Winnipeg Police Service sparked outrage in April 2020 when one of its officers shot 16-year-old Eishia Hudson following a robbery, car chase and collision. Hudson died in hospital. (Photo by Aaron Epp)

On March 11, 2020, the day before Manitoba reported its first infection of the coronavirus, Bronwyn Dobchuk-Land stood up in a multipurpose room at First Mennonite Church in Winnipeg to give a lecture exploring the question: How is it that Winnipeg has so many police, and so little justice and peace?

Over the course of her hour-long talk, the University of Winnipeg criminal justice professor examined how nearly 30 percent of Winnipeg’s city budget is spent on the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS), a bigger single portion than any other spending pot in the city coffers. At the same time, Dobchuk-Land said, the WPS doesn’t prevent crime, and officers spend most of their time responding to situations that they don’t really have the tools or training to actually solve or resolve—such as domestic violence-related incidents and well-being checks.

Dobchuk-Land wondered what Winnipeg might look like if 10 years ago, when the police budget started to drastically inflate, the city had chosen instead to invest in public housing, treatment facilities, detox centres, 24-hour safe spaces for people using drugs, increases in the minimum wage, increases in social assistance, and crisis response teams with nurses and mental health professionals at the centre.

“People who reached crisis points that we hear about as criminal incidents in the news would not reach those points if they had interventions earlier on,” Dobchuk-Land said, adding later: “We have to shift where we direct energy and resources; we have to stop investing in trying hard to improve institutions that are never going to be well-equipped to solve the complex needs that exist in our society.”

David Driedger, a pastor at First Mennonite, invited Dobchuk-Land to give the lecture in an attempt to start a conversation at the church about the role of police in society. Driedger considered joining the RCMP when he was a young adult, but over the last year-and-a-half, he has become increasingly invested in understanding and promoting the idea of defunding and abolishing the police.

“For Mennonites wishing to fully develop and follow a peace stance, it should be given more attention,” Driedger told Canadian Mennonite in June.

Driedger is part of a growing group of Winnipeggers, including a number of Mennonites, who are critical of policing. The murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin—while several of Chauvin’s peers watched and did nothing—in May 2020 provoked a reckoning over the role of police in society, but the conversation in Winnipeg started gaining momentum even earlier. The month before Floyd’s murder, the WPS sparked outrage when one of its officers shot Eishia Hudson, a 16-year-old Indigenous youth, following a robbery, car chase and collision. Hudson died in hospital. (The Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba, which investigates all serious incidents involving police officers in the province, announced in January that no criminal charges would be laid against the officer who shot Hudson.)

Oppressive structures

Julia Thiessen, a member at Charleswood Mennonite Church, chooses her words carefully when describing her interest in police and prison abolition. For Thiessen, abolition is an ideal that she’s not sure society will ever reach. At the same time, it’s worth working toward.

She stresses that she critiques the system of policing, rather than individual people who are police officers. “We all participate in institutions that are flawed and structures that are oppressive, so when I start being critical of policing, it’s not because that’s the only piece of our society that’s oppressive,” she said, citing herself as an example: “I’m a teacher, and one of the things I had to learn is how education is oppressive.”

Thiessen’s opposition to policing comes from the same place as her opposition to the military: a commitment to nonviolence inspired by the life of Jesus.

“One thing [policing] is very effective at is turning those people who should be our neighbours into our enemies, and that’s where I would come back to my Anabaptist principles,” she said. “To all those who are hesitant about abolition because they feel [that] police protect them, I would ask: Protect you from whom? And why are those people your enemies?

“We know that by far the people who are criminalized are poor and racialized, and their crimes are largely participating in a street economy and not having the access [to the same resources] that those who are wealthy have. If those are our enemies, if that’s who we need to be protected from, then I think we need to be neighbours differently and be better neighbours.”

Nate De Avila, who goes to Sargent Avenue Mennonite Church, has been interested in police and prison abolition for more than a decade. He links those interests to both his beliefs as an Anabaptist Christian and his grandparents’ experiences as conscientious objectors.

“The recent trend of equipping the police with what were previously military-grade weapons and defenses makes it pretty easy to look at your own [Mennonite] history and think about the types of violences that your own family was avoiding in the past, and realizing those capabilities are walking up and down your street now, as opposed to being only flexed during a war,” De Avila said.

He is quick to point to the history of community organizers, many of them from BIPOC communities, who have long called for defunding the police and abolishing prisons.

“I would hope that people understand police defunding and prison abolition as a movement toward greater safety for everyone,” De Avila said. “Oftentimes, it gets represented as exactly the opposite—as a movement toward chaos—and it’s just not that.”

Reallocate resources

Last month, the Winnipeg Free Press published a feature article exploring the rising cost of emergency services in Winnipeg. The article reported that, despite contrary claims of law enforcement, union leaders and criminal-justice policy makers, every academic who spoke to the Free Press said there is no relationship between police funding and crime rates.

“How much money we put into policing has no impact on crime—every criminologist, regardless of political stripe, will tell you that,” Christian Leuprecht, a professor at both the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University, told the Free Press.

Dobchuk-Land expressed something similar during her lecture: “...We know as a matter of fact that rates of policing are not correlated with rates of crime—there’s very little relationship. The levers of crime, so to speak, and violence, are outside the control of the police.”

In September 2019, a community group called Winnipeg Police Cause Harm (WPCH) formed in response to the deaths of several Indigenous and Black people, including Chad Williams, Machuar Madut, Sean Thompson and Randy Cochrane, who died following confrontations with the WPS. The organization does not believe that police and prisons can be reformed, and advocates defunding the WPS and allocating its resources to community organizations that address the root causes of poverty and crime—community organizations that provide the kinds of services Dobchuk-Land outlined in her lecture.

For Daniel Friesen, who attends Charleswood Mennonite Church, joining WPCH in late 2019 was “a no-brainer.”

“It’s a big fight, but it’s very worthy to do,” he said. “[I’m] hoping the arc of history will bend toward a world without police being seen as the obvious way for society to be organized.”

“If we reallocate resources away from police and toward programs and services that meet people’s needs—give people food, give people housing, give people a safe supply of drugs so they can use drugs safely and access to programs so they can stop using if that’s what they want to do, then the need for police will shrink and go away entirely,” Friesen added. “A world without police is a world where we look to meet people’s needs instead of looking for people who seem to be causing problems and [removing] them from society.”

Policing is inextricably linked to Settler colonialism, said River Martin, who attends Sargent Avenue Mennonite and is part of WPCH. As such, not everyone benefits equally from the work of the police.

“[There’s a] culture of serve and protect, but it’s not really that—it’s serve and protect the people we deem valuable,” Martin said. She added that as Black people, she and each of her six siblings have had negative experiences with law enforcement based on their ethnicity (albeit not in Winnipeg). “For a cause that’s supposed to protect us, it’s really letting us down in a lot of ways and the only people it ends up protecting are rich and white.”

When asked how her views on policing connect to her faith, Martin points to Article 22 in the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, which addresses peace, justice and nonresistance. When Martin reads that article, she said, “it’s very clear to me… that [policing] doesn’t fit within the model of peace we’re asked to participate in.” Instead, Mennonites are called to actively engage in a meaningful way with what peace means. “There’s no way you can do that when you are within a system like the police that is inherently built on violence and controlling the population through means of force. There’s no room in there for peace.”

More conversation

Michael Pahl, executive minister of Mennonite Church Manitoba, has tweeted in support of police abolition. The conversation about defunding the police is one that he would like to see more MC Manitoba congregations having.

He points to Defund the Police? An Abolition Curriculum—a multimedia, online curriculum that Mennonite Church U.S.A. released earlier this year to help congregations and individuals think creatively about personal and community safety in a biblical context—and wonders if Canadian Mennonites could develop a similar resource to aid conversation.

“I know that we have police officers that are… part of our congregations, and we need to do this in a way where they don’t feel personally threatened [and] they can also participate in that conversation,” Pahl said. “There are so many important issues [today]. We can focus on any one of them, but I think it’s important to at least have this as a conversation that’s starting alongside other issues.”

Thiessen wonders why, as the conversation about defunding the police has become more mainstream, the Mennonite church hasn’t already found itself looking at the possibility of abolition.

“I’ve been surprised by the resistance I’ve had from fellow Anabaptists when I share these ideas,” she said. “I think if our nonviolence is going to mean any­thing today, we need to look at where structural violence is happening in our community and oppose that, whether or not it makes us individually safer.”


Four police voices

Gord Friesen recalls some of what he was thinking when, in 1982, he joined the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) at the age of 20: “As Mennonites and as pacifists, if we expect there to be policing in our community… then why shouldn’t we be expected to do it?”

Canadian Mennonite spoke to Friesen and three other current or former members of the WPS. All four grew up in Mennonite congregations in southern Manitoba. One is active in a Mennonite church today; all four identify as Mennonite. They answered a range of questions, including (but not limited to): What drew you to police work? How do you reconcile coming from a pacifist tradition and carrying a gun? What do you enjoy about your work? What do you think about community members who are calling to defund the police?

Michael Klassen was in his early 20s and working in a grocery store when he witnessed first-hand the way the police helped his friend who was in distress. Klassen had been thinking about changing careers to something that would give him more of a challenge, and the incident inspired him to join the WPS.

“After seeing that, [I thought]: that is an important job,” said Klassen, who has been with the service for 17 years. “That is really what I felt was a calling.”

For Andy Wahl, joining the WPS after spending a decade as a bartender was a way to move into a career where he could give back to the community.

“Every day, we come in and we get to help people,” says Wahl, an 18-year veteran of the force. “It seems like I’m oversimplifying it, but that’s the meat and potatoes of policing. There’s a call for service, someone needs help, and we go and we help.”

Each man said that coming from a heritage that focuses on actively resisting violence and warfare has never conflicted with his work, and that the use of force is always a last resort. The first thing they try is to mediate the situation by talking with the individuals involved.

“The biggest asset you have as a police officer is your ability to communicate, because every call we go to, we’re engaging with people and we’re talking with people,” Wahl said.

“The police use force to overcome resistance when [they’re] arresting somebody,” added Werner Toews, who retired in 2013 after 25 years with the WPS. “That’s the only reason it’s used. Or, if somebody wants to harm somebody with a knife or weapon, to stop that threat, you need to use force.… In a society where we want rules, where we want law and order, that’s the price that we have to pay.”

It can be hurtful when people are critical of the police, Klassen said, because the WPS is there to help people.

“I like to compare football players to police officers,” he said. “Just as a football team has a variety of people playing different positions, so does policing.… We may not always agree on everything, but we are all a team, and we all have the same goal.”

“We’re in a crazy profession where the acts of one person can kind of paint everybody with the same brush,” Wahl added. “It’s a crazy time we live in, but I would just say the men and women of the Winnipeg Police Service [are] there to help. It sounds like a cheesy company line, but it’s true.”

David Driedger, a pastor at First Mennonite Church who is critical of policing, offered a different perspective. Driedger saw a woman in distress lying on the boulevard. He asked her if there was anyone he could call for her. “Don’t call the police,” Driedger recalled the woman saying. “They [called] me an a--h--- and told me to stop wasting their time.” The Instagram account When WPG Police Cause Harm has collected similar stories of police officers alledgedly abusing their power and causing citizens distress.

“I just do not see how our current model is in any way adequate, particularly to those most in need of support,” Driedger said.

Friesen, who retired in 2018 after almost 36 years with the WPS, follows Winnipeg Police Cause Harm on Instagram and reads about defunding the police. He is aware of the ways colonialism has shaped policing and the systemic injustice that leads marginalized communities to be overrepresented in the justice system.

While he does not advocate for abolition, Friesen does support police reform.

“I certainly understand defunding the police, and I understand that movement, but I think the police are a bit of a lightning rod for that,” he said. “We come from this community and we’re carrying out community expectations.”

For people like Driedger and organizations like Winnipeg Police Cause Harm, community expectations are changing.

“I totally accept that people will have positive experiences with the police—that in focused situations, [officers will] have done a positive thing,” Driedger said. “I would say that’s in spite of a framework that will inevitably continue to lead to an overall negative impact or is less helpful than we should be working toward.”


For discussion

1. What are some examples of personal encounters you have had with the police? Did you feel respected in these situations? Do you think the police tend to use force or the threat of violence too quickly?

2. According to Bronwyn Dobchuk-Land, the Winnipeg Police Service spends most of its time dealing with domestic violence-related incidents and well-being checks. What are some other ways for society to intervene in these situations?

3. Daniel Friesen believes society needs to reallocate resources away from the police and spend more on people’s needs. Do you agree? What could we do to reduce violence in our society?

—By Barb Draper

The Winnipeg Police Service sparked outrage in April 2020 when one of its officers shot 16-year-old Eishia Hudson following a robbery, car chase and collision. Hudson died in hospital. (Photo by Aaron Epp)

Daniel Friesen is critical of the Winnipeg Police Service. ‘If we reallocate resources away from police and toward programs and services that meet people’s needs… the need for police will shrink and go away entirely,’ he says. (Photo by Aaron Epp)

Share this page: Twitter Instagram


I appreciate the well-reasoned "Four police voices" who know first hand the challenges of modern-day policing. In this day and age of increasing violence and crime, I think it would be a huge mistake to defund police. According to what is written in Scripture, we shouldn’t expect it to get any better. In fact, Jesus told us in Matthew 24:12 that signs leading up to His second coming and the end of the age would include the reality that “lawlessness will abound” and “the love of many will grow cold”.

I am grateful that God in His wisdom established governments and given them a responsibility to “execute wrath” on those who practice evil. I believe that this is for our protection. Romans 13: 1-7 puts it this way:
“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” Romans 13: 1-7

Like any organization, police forces are made up of imperfect people, and because of that problems will surface from time to time. But I believe the vast majority of police officers strive to put their training to good use and sacrifice much every day so that we can enjoy our lives as peacefully as possible.

I really appreciate this article, and particularly the inclusion of voices unafraid to speak up about the slippage between Mennonite values and police violence. How can Mennonites justify supporting a body of armed law enforcers? What does that say to the conscientious objectors who were jailed for their refusal to take up arms while their countries were at war? Or to those who had to flee oppression and who understand what it's like to be victims of state violence? Why is it okay for Mennonite police to use weapons, but not our Mennonite forebears? How can the possession of a weapon and the willingness to use it—even as a last resort—possibly be part of a goal to promote peace? These are difficult but, I think, necessary questions.

While I understand the defensive knee-jerk reaction to the idea of defunding the police as one that sounds dangerous and naive, I think the previous comment that God has given law enforcement a responsibility to "execute wrath" is where danger lies and misses the point of the New Testament's God of grace and Jesus's call to question authority. It also assumes that all police officers are well-intended and that all criminals are more deserving of wrath than of human dignity, which again, I would argue, goes against Mennonite belief. I don't think we can really call police "governing authorities," either, as their role is not to govern, but to enforce laws that were created mostly by privileged white people for the oppression of the poor and people of colour (look up any number of peer-reviewed publications on history of policing and you'll find its racist roots).

Crucially, the police don't prevent crime and, at least here in Winnipeg, their track record of solving crimes isn't great. Wouldn't it be worth the effort to come up with ways of supporting the law and the people it's meant to serve before most crimes are committed and without the use of deadly force? There is absolutely no reason that the Winnipeg police's $300M+ annual budget (which is approximately one third of Winnipeg's total city budget) can't be reallocated, at least in part, to other services better suited to helping those most at risk of being victims and/or perpetrators of crime.

I encourage those against defunding the police to really think about how they can reconcile policing with being Mennonite. Then, I encourage them to look up how much money goes toward sustaining their local police budget and how successful the methods of policing have been before suggesting that policing is our only way forward. This article points to a better way, and I'm all for it.

Mandy, it looks like we have very different views regarding the issue of defunding police. While I agree that police are not be called “governing authorities”, here in Canada it is our Municipal, Provincial and Federal governments who make sure we are provided with police services, paid for by tax dollars.

I also want to point out that it isn’t entirely true that it “is okay for Mennonite police to use weapons, but not our Mennonite forebears”. Several books I’ve read relate true accounts of times when anarchist Nestor Makhno, as well as the Black Army, went around terrorizing Mennonite villages in Russia. It is said that during those times Mennonite men would take turns standing guard with a gun at the entrance of their village in an effort to protect their people. Desperate measures in desperate times, I’m sure.

It’s kind of interesting now though. A few years ago I was preparing for membership in an Evangelical Mennonite Church. Of course, the subject of nonresistance came up. Because it was presented as a mandatory belief in that church, I thought that maybe it was not right for me to pursue the membership, because I couldn’t agree fully with their stance on nonresistance. Eventually I asked the pastor if he was in a situation where his wife and children were threatened, would he physically resist an evil man in order to protect his family? He admitted that he would, and later he told me not to let the teachings regarding nonresistance get in the way of me becoming a member. I suspect there are many Mennonite men who believe in nonresistance to a point, but will reluctantly admit that they would physically resist a dangerous person in order to keep their family from harm.

You asked the question, “Wouldn't it be worth the effort to come up with ways of supporting the law and the people it's meant to serve before most crimes are committed and without the use of deadly force?”. Over the years there have been many good crime prevention initiatives put into place with some positive results. But there still remains the same problem from as far back as the time of Adam and Eve—"The heart is deceitful above all things. And Desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). I really think that unfortunately, if we don’t want to live in a state of chaos, the brave men and women in law enforcement will need to make painful decisions to use deadly force at times until Jesus returns.

One final question for those who cannot support a body of armed law enforcers. What are your ideas as to how the police should respond to, for example, a gunman randomly shooting customers in a supermarket?

Elaine, I can understand feeling the need to justify the use of violence as a response to personal fear. In my life I have been nearer to violence than I would have liked to be, and I was definitely afraid. But I also understand that sometimes violence is a default reaction to something deeper. Most commonly, we see police violence not as a response to crime, but to racism, to poverty, to otherness. That’s why they began, and the thread of that beginning runs deep. I think we can both agree that Christians are called to fight against those injustices and to do better.

Honestly, I’m not content to sit back as people make decisions to “use deadly force at times until Jesus returns.” The way I understand the New Testament, adhering to the teachings of Jesus means adhering to peace even in the face of danger. What if, instead of putting police in that position, we could reallocate the police budget to implement programs that have the potential to actually stop people from choosing to break the law. After all, very, very few crimes are committed just for the sake of committing them. Instead, crime arises out of poverty, abuse, isolation, mental health problems, and other markers of inequity. Perhaps, then, my answer to your question is that we should ensure cities have things like affordable housing in neighbourhoods near grocery stores, green spaces, and schools; social workers on-call to help with people in distress; universal mental healthcare, etc. While these supports won’t necessarily help in a random shooter situation, they might, and they can absolutely help prevent it from happening in the first place. And, keep in mind that the police might not help anything in that situation, either, since they tend to show up only as a crime is already being committed.

The bottom line is that I don’t think the Jesus who tells us to love our neighbour would advocate for the use of deadly force. That means we need to think of something else.

I don't have all the answers, but I was extremely grateful for the police this summer when an individually violently tried to enter my home in the middle of the night terrifying my family. I fully believe without their help it would have been fatal.

Hi Dale, I'm so sorry that happened to you, and I'm glad the police were useful to you and your family.

The incident you went through certainly contributes to the murkiness of this issue. While the police might be helpful in some scenarios, they really aren't in others (e.g., dealing with people experiencing mental health concerns, trauma, etc.). That's why, instead of directing even more money to fund police as a catch-all for anything that happens, as many cities have been doing, I think at least a portion of that money should be used to fund organizations and infrastructure that are better suited to help in those scenarios that the police aren't properly equipped/experienced/trained for. If we do that, we might discover that we can prevent some crimes and foster a healthier society with more supports for those who need them.

We must applaud great empathy for the downtrodden, desire for a better society and thinking outside the box. It's good to promote conversations about policing, especially among Mennonites because they're so lacking, while being much-needed. However, they should include a lot more about Mennonites' relationship with policing and should never be dismissive of the enormously important role that good policing plays, as a pillar of society.

Many new or expanded social programs and services designed to reduce the need for policing would indeed help matters. So, the more, the better. However, it seems that policing often can't be reduced until such programs are established and bear fruit, meaning until they cause crime rates to drop. If so, simply reallocating funding would not work. There probably has to be a lot of slow, careful transitioning, in most cases. Major, rapid defunding of police would bring about rampant crime in many places. But, insofar as such changeovers can successfully happen, they are of course wonderful.

Until such time, statements like "How much money we put into policing has no impact on crime" and "Winnipeg Police Service doesn't prevent crime" are absurd. If they were true, we wouldn't spend anything on policing. And then, yes, chaos surely would reign. Someone has to address the multitude of situations which are too dangerous for others to attend to. If social workers and programs aren't doing it, or not yet, then police must. Dobchuk-Land questions, "How is it that Winnipeg has so many police, and so little justice and peace?" To this I ask, don't you realize that without policing things could be a thousand times worse? We can't measure the enormous effect policing has because we'd have to allow anarchy in order to see the difference, but we know it's there. We know from history and from observing currently lawless places how hellish life a can become. We know what often happens when there are no repercussions for evil behaviour.

Police didn't create such a messy society, but we ask of them, rightly or wrongly, to always be the ones on the front lines of trying to deal with it all. It's a big, big ask, when you think about it. So, we must properly recognize the risks and sacrifices they make by being in that profession. If everyone chose to be accountants and carpenters, society easily becomes a living nightmare and in many countries this is more or less an everyday reality.

Policing doesn't work without teeth, so their guns are necessary, too, unfortunately. It's a matter of how they use them or refrain from using them. Many may say, out of the goodness of their hearts, "There's never justification for lethal force." However, protection of the innocent, including of cops themselves, sometimes brings about the necessity of such choices. It's just one more sad reality in a far-less-than-ideal world. Reliance on 24-7-365 armed policing is a compromise almost all of us make. I say "almost" because there are saints in the world who apparently don't mind risking and sacrificing all, so they apparently need no securities of any kind, but they're rare. The irony of fairly average people saying their commitment to nonviolence is why they're against police and guns, is that they're making these statements while living in conditions made immeasurably safer by policing. They almost certainly wouldn't make them if policing didn't exist or was grossly inadequate. They'd be too busy fending off crime and changing their minds about cops. It's very good to be as nonviolent as possible, but the key word is "possible".

Bad cops, inept cops and bad policing methods must continue to be eliminated, yes. Also, excessive policing, if it exists. However, mistakes are also made by good cops because it's a stressful, difficult job, often involving split-second decisions in rapidly-unfolding, complex, confusing, dangerous circumstances. And the media highlights bad incidents or ones that look bad, while mountains of great policing go unnoticed and unreported. Blaming cops unduly is prevalent. Everything must be put into perspective, starting with the fact that policing is keeping society immensely safer and many cops lay their lives on the line, daily. Policing isn't our biggest problem. Social injustices, and people bent on self-destruction and victimizing of others, are our biggest problems. Good policing is our friend. Corrupt policing is somewhat of a problem. The difference between bad policing and good policing is like night and day.

Since good policing is vital, supporting it is also vital. It's especially important for Mennonites, due to our long neglect. Many younger Mennonites could also become cops. As a people, we should try to do something close to our fair share of necessary, dangerous, dirty work. Or more than our share, since we've been so delinquent in this for so long. Peaceful people can make great cops. Mennonites who join this important profession should be greatly encouraged, respected and honoured by their own. Sadly, the opposite often happens. Churches should officially support good policing. Criticizing bad policing is good, but empty without supporting the opposite. Instead of acknowledging this mistake, some people double-down and say, well, policing isn't even necessary. Good grief. Improvements are all we can seriously talk about, never abolishment.

In other words, love and helpfulness work wonders, but aren't enough. Yet, many Mennonites state or imply they don't need cops, or at least not ones with guns. However, even if complete nonviolence is always best in every situation (very debatable), almost no one can actually live this way in harder circumstances. How many people do you know who really can? Almost all of us need society to be generally made much safer and we need 911. We all need other things, too, like detectives, courts and prisons. All of them can be improved, yes, often greatly, but not done away with. Mennonites rely on cops with guns trmendously, like everyone else, but many choose not to think about it or acknowledge it. It's fine to hate the necessity of this, but we must admit it's there. Avoidance, denial and dishonesty are big problems for Mennonites. We're not "pure" in security issues, nor can we be and far from it. So, in addition to continuing in our helpful ways, Mennonites should greatly adjust their peace positions. Adding a lot of pragmatism to nonviolent ideals is how we must live and already do. This compromise is understandable, necessary and appropriate for us and all average people. Even if there are a few saints among us, there's still the rest of us and society to think about.

It's very good to strive for more peaceful solutions. It's also good to realize that balanced, feasible approaches to security are best. Mennonites are often idealists and that's partly good, but they must also be realists. To have a vision of how the world should be is great. To accept the world as it is and accept the many far-less-than-ideal things which must often be done is also great. It's a far-from-perfect world, unfortunately, but we live in it as best we can. Peace stances shouldn't be ideal and unlivable, but rather realistic and doable. However, try having an honest conversation with Mennonites about how we depend on policing. It's a very hush-hush subject in Mennonite Church Canada and elsewhere, in my experience. As we separate the ideal from the real, we can analyze things more thoroughly and more objectively. Good discussions can also come and our understanding can grow.

I think simply doing our best is very much what Jesus taught. Be peaceful within, first and foremost, then spread peace in the world, too - as possible. There are many smaller things we can do for peace and many we already do. Mennonites are usually pretty good at basic, daily, peaceful living, to their great credit. It has a wonderful effect on the world. However, there are also many harder things which most of us can't, don't and won't do because they're very difficult or virtually impossible. Living without reasonable amounts and types of protection is one of them. It's fine to be at peace with good policing, and ideas of perfect police or no police or police without teeth must be recognized for what they are - nice dreams. Balancing and blending pragmatism with nonviolent ideals to produce our real-life choices is also an ideal. Jesus taught nonviolent ideals, but also compromised them. The main idea should be inner peace and wisdom, and outwardly following the spirit of ideals, but often not the letter of them because it often can't be done. Good cops operate in the same manner.

Let us remain positive and proceed as always - with faith, hope, love, wisdom and strength.

Just one thing I'd like to add that may not be well known to everyone. Many police forces already keep psychiatric nurses on staff to assist with mental health calls. Our local detachment has employed them for several years already. Maybe we need more such nurses on staff with police agencies? But please, not by eliminating officer positions.

Howard, I appreciate your belief in good policing and your ability to be optimistic about the state of policing in this country. I also appreciate your concession that it’s good to think outside the box. I agree!

However, in the spirit of healthy and productive conversation, I must say that I take issue with your claim that the statement, “Winnipeg Police Service doesn’t prevent crime” is “absurd” because “if [it] were true, we wouldn’t spend anything on policing.” Since we still experience plenty of crime, isn’t it absurd to claim that police prevent it?

It is similarly absurd, or, at least, paradoxical, to suggest that programs that might be better-suited than the police to deal with certain problems must prove their mettle before they can fully operate. These are experts, not amateur volunteers. They have already proven their mettle through education and practical experience. What they need is money and support. Perhaps this can come from the police dollars earmarked for helicopters, military vehicles, or “Spot” the robot dog.

You’re right that without police things would be different. But just as you say that “without policing things could be a thousand times worse,” they could also be a thousand times better. You say that “Police didn’t create such a messy society.” That might be so, but they were born out of one. Why not at least consider alternative practices of justice, including those practiced by the Indigenous people who have been and continue to be the victims of horrendous police violence?

I’m also struck by your claim that corrupt policing is only “somewhat of a problem.” This statement is a kick to the stomach of everyone who has experienced police violence and harassment. Many women, people of colour, and people experiencing mental illness fear the police, and rightly so. Just yesterday I saw video of RCMP officers harassing the Wet’su’weten water defenders for no reason beyond attempting to assert dominance on land that, legally, they have no power over. Corrupt or not, police enjoy positions of power with few consequences when that power is abused. What’s more, any abuse of that power—even something that might seem small to you—is dangerous to all of us, and especially to those whose experiences you don’t share. Your words here betray your privilege.

The only adjustment that needs to be made to Mennonites’ “peace positions” is to start making decisions in consideration of those living with the least amount of privilege who are on the receiving end of police corruption and violence and to take a hard look at the injustice we benefit from. This is far more practical than getting hung up on hypothetical scenarios.

I don’t have a plan for what abolishing the police looks like. But it’s worked before, and I’m really excited to see what we can do with enough care, imagination, and, yes, money. For now, I will continue to advocate for the defunding of police—maybe by only a few million dollars to start—so that all of our communities (not just the wealthy white Mennonite ones) can be safer.

My approach to the topic of police services comes out of over 25 years of working as a chaplain with Correctional Service Canada in several institutions in Quebec.

The article in CM has highlighted several problems with the present structures of policing.

Police officers as employees of the government are provided with a job description for which they are responsible to fulfill. Their authority and ethical conduct expectations are all described in detail in their job description.

My questions relate to the job description and what is discerned as a breach of ethical conduct. Are there serious discrepancies in the attitudes and expectations of the general public toward police?

I believe that rather than defunding the police departments we need to reevaluate their job description. Perhaps there are too many officers responding in the same basic way to all the problems.

Perhaps there are officers who would prefer to respond differently (in a moral way) but they are not able to because their job descriptions determine their response.
I do not believe that we should defund the police departments of our country. We should rather rewrite their job description so that their gifts and qualifications can be practiced and appreciated by both the offender and the offended.

Add new comment

Canadian Mennonite invites comments and encourages constructive discussion about our content. Actual full names (first and last) are required. Comments are moderated and may be edited. They will not appear online until approved and will be posted during business hours. Some comments may be reproduced in print.