A year ago, few would have predicted that a movement to “defund the police” would become a touchstone in campaign 2020. John Yoo is a law professor and a former Department of Justice official under President George W. Bush who sees big trouble on the horizon.
Sharyl: What is your view on the current movement to defund the police?
John Yoo: I think it's a terrible mistake. Our inner cities, where we have high rates of poor academic performance, low economic activity, poor job opportunities, a lot of crime. Those are the places where you need the most police. Those are not the places where you want to start defunding the police.
Sharyl: But historically, overall, should we look at what the police have been doing for the past decade or two as an experiment that has failed? Is there a need, do you think, to reform our police agencies?
Yoo: We have thousands of police departments, and we've had been doing, as you say, running an experiment almost for the last 10, 20 years, but it's not an experiment that failed. It's an experiment that's succeeded. We are living through one of the greatest success stories in American policing, where we have seen dramatic drops in crime, particularly in New York City where, not crime rates, but the absolute numbers of violent crimes like murders were, until this last year, below the numbers they were in 1960. It's incredible. I don't think in American history we've ever seen such a significant drop in crime. And that is, I think, entirely due to policing strategies and a successful experiment in policing. Not a failure in the last 10 years.
Sharyl: Do you think the movement to defund the police or to reform police agencies has exposed some critical weaknesses that deserve looking at?
Yoo: Well, of course, we have seen problems in how to deal with individual officers with some cases of use of force. Unfortunately, we tend to focus on individual cases that we've seen on video clips. But you look at the statistics, crime has been dropping a lot. That doesn't mean we can't figure out new ways to remedy things that protect. Procedures or policies that are protecting bad apple cops. Maybe there are police departments here and there that could be reformed. But I don't think the answer is just to say, "Let's cut funding for police departments. Let's, in Minneapolis, abolish police departments." It's to look at the forces that have succeeded in places like New York City or perhaps a Philadelphia, and take the lessons from those and apply them to other places in the country. Rather, the answer I don't think could possibly be, "Let's have less police officers. Let's pull out of the inner cities. Let's do what we did and tried in Seattle and have zones where the city government just withdraws and let's people return to the state of nature, like Lord Of The Flies.”
Sharyl: Where do you think we are headed now, if you have to guess?
Yoo: Well, I think we're going to see a rise in crime, I'm afraid. I think we're already starting to see more shootings, more violent crimes in several of our cities after these last set of. Well, they first started as peaceful protests, but now it's turned into some places rioting and looting, unfortunately. I think we're going to see police withdraw, I think, from effective policing in inner cities. I think you're going to see, unfortunately, this is going to be one of the great political issues that's up for this election cycle in 2020 and 2022 is, are we going to actually try to take a new, fresh approach? Or are we going to try these old-fashioned, I think, obsolete new deal policies of having these smothering unions, monopolistic one-party government in our inner cities? And just throwing money at the problems without really looking at the results and the consequences. I'm really afraid that things will get much worse, not better on the course we're on.
Sharyl (on camera): The move to defund the police has been losing steam in Minneapolis, where the city council in June moved forward a proposal to remove the requirement to maintain a police department. It will not be on the ballot this November as the City Council reviews it.