Heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition

Detroit Block Club President Wants More Police Funding, Reform

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Image credit: Marissa Gawel/WDET

While activists call for rethinking policing and safe communities, this Detroit block club president says more funding is needed to reduce crime.

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In Minneapolis, after protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, the city council announced that it would be defunding its police department.

I’m very proud of the young people who have stood up and they are taking control and being very active.” — Betty Varner, De Soto Ellsworth Block Club Association

We did a full analysis of all the reasons that people call 911 in Minneapolis last year to learn why people are calling for help and how we compare an appropriate response to those calls that often wouldn’t involve an armed police officer,” Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender told NPR’s Rachel Martin. “And there are models for these community-based safety strategies all over the country and all over the world.”

In Detroit, defunding the police is included on a list of more than 20 demands from protesters. Even so, local activist Tristan Taylor says what exactly it means to defund the police in Detroit is yet to be defined. On WDET’s Detroit Today, Taylor told Host Stephen Henderson “that’s a question that the community itself needs to decide.”

Click on the player above to hear why one block club president wants to see more funding go to the police.

Betty A. VarnerCourtesy of Betty A. Varner
Courtesy of Betty A. Varner

Betty A. Varner

Betty A. Varner is a Detroit resident who lives near Livernois and Fenkle and is the President of the De Soto Ellsworth Block Club Association. Among other things, Varner is concerned about crime in her area.

You have people who come to your community and they are doing things that are not positive for your community, like speeding, doing donuts, having parties, doing drugs,” Varner says. 

Varner makes it clear that she is very supportive of the peaceful protesting that’s been happening.

I’m very proud of the young people who have stood up and they are taking control and being very active,” she says. But she doesn’t agree with everything they’re demanding. She does not support defunding the police department.

We don’t need less police officers, we need more,” says Varner. “We need more patrolling in our area.”

More Funding — And Reform

Varner wants to see more cops hired and their salaries increased.

She’s a big fan of Neighborhood Police Officers, or NPOs. These are officers who are meant to develop ties with residents and businesses.

When you have individuals who are abusing their authority, you should have a trial and go to jail.”

We have a very good rapport with the 10th Precinct, that is the precinct that takes care of our community, and I think they do a wonderful job,” says Varner.

But, she acknowledges the force isn’t perfect.

When you have individuals who are abusing their authority and harming individuals, then there should be some policies in place so that you can not only lose your job, you should pay. You should have a trial and go to jail just like anybody else,” says Varner.

Looking closer at the full list of protester demands may help paint a picture of the future activists are imagining. The list includes criminal justice reform items like decriminalizing recreational drugs, ending cash bail, and demilitarizing the Detroit Police Department. It also include stopping the enforcement of evictions and abolishing foreclosures.

When we say ‘defund’ we are saying that we want to create something where safety is a real thing. We know safety means secure housing, safety means having access to water, safety means not having to guess as to what tomorrow will look like and to where you will be,” says Taylor.

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Laura Herberg, Community Reporter

Laura Herberg is a Community Reporter for 101.9 WDET, telling the stories about people inhabiting the Detroit region and the issues that affect us here. She has reported since 2010 without owning a car.

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