The movement to defund police or abolish police departments altogether, issues generally ignored prior to the killing of George Floyd, have gained visibility and momentum with the massive protests against police brutality. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called for a reduction in the city police budget. In Minneapolis, the site of Floyd’s death, nine city council members pledged to dismantle the police department.

For those raised with the belief that police are guardians of the community, the proposals to reduce or abolish police is shocking. If police are no longer around, or in the more likely scenario, greatly cut back, what happens to a community’s protective shield?

Supporters of the defund and/or abolish idea say that police are not really stopping much crime and they can’t solve the problems that lead to crime. The issues can only be resolved through better education, jobs and social services. Take the police money and put it into programs that help the downtrodden, especially African American communities that do not get a break under the current system.

If that is done, the argument goes there will be no need for police. As one Twitter commentator related in a series of Tweets, affluent communities don’t require the hands-on policing that is centered in poorer areas of the city.

Supporters of drastic change to policing say that the history of policing shows that law enforcement was created not as a crime deterring force, but as a way to enforce the status quo, an emphasis of what the elites of the community saw as affirming order over disorder.

In this view, policing in this country has been traced to badge carrying Slave Patrols in the South, enforcing discipline and preventing slave escapes. Big city, professional police departments, first appearing in Boston in 1838, are described as enforcers promoted by the business community and city leaders who wanted control over minorities, immigrants, and workers to prevent disruption of a city’s economic order.

The history supporting the movements to defund or abolish police contains truths. But police functions are also a reliant, stabilizing force for communities, well beyond the notion expressed in some histories that they are in place simply to crack down on the underclass.

If police are abolished or withdrawn, that offers opportunity to those who would take advantage of the situation. As one looter in Santa Monica, aware of no police presence, told the Los Angeles Times, “We’re doing it because we can.”

There will still be bad actors who look for opportunity to skirt the law. Not all criminals come from minority and poor neighborhoods as white collar crimes and drug induced crime in upscale neighborhoods attest. There are still break-ins in affluent neighborhoods. And, minority communities need and want help in gaining safety in their neighborhoods. It is hard to imagine all dangers disappear even with more attention and funds delivered to downtrodden areas to improve services and educational opportunities.

The need for protection and a first-responder, arbitrating organization does not go away even if more money is directed to social services. Drastically reducing the police will make it tougher for officers to do the job.

In addition, if major changes to police departments get to a point that people fear for their safety, there is bound to be a defensive reaction from members of the public. Today’s society is probably not in the place to resort to some sort of vigilantism as was carried out in Gold Rush era San Francisco. But the run on gun stores, widespread when coronavirus hit, could become even more prevalent if police are dismissed.

Possible pushback  must be considered when weighing defunding and police department dismantling.

This doesn’t mean that reform is unnecessary and important to alter the negative aspects of policing. We have clearly come to a tipping point in American history on policing and now is the time for positive action. But, rushing to make drastic changes in the heat of crisis is likely to produce unintended and unwanted consequences.