Princeton is a place that is held in high esteem the world over. I am proud of so much of what we do and who we are. But there is room for us to do better.
It is important for all of us to look around us, think about where we stand and identify all the things we can do to be a better community. Let’s look for example at the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the country’s, as well as Princeton’s fissures were amplified during the national lockdown and quarantine. Right here in Princeton, where some of the brightest minds are curated and some of the wealthiest people live, some of our neighbors were hungry, some were experiencing homelessness, some were finding it hard to pay their bills, and some were food insecure. The pandemic didn’t invent these social insecurities, it merely left them bare for all to see. How did we get here? I’m no social engineer, but I can see the glaring disparities in funding our priorities.
The police department got 8 million dollars and the human services department got a couple hundred thousand. My observation was validated at a council meeting on June 8th, when the health officer himself said that he has to use the police to do some of the work the health department needs to do because they don’t have enough staff. The health officer is essentially saying that he does not have the resources to hire and therefore help Princetonians in need. The fact that the police department is so well funded that they can do both crime fighting and assist with social services speaks to our priorities and in turn the problem.
I would like to think that it is not ridiculous for the council to take time to reconsider our priorities. One of the ways to start addressing the social insecurities would be to re-align the funding relative to the needs. Defunding the police does not mean eliminating their budget. It simply means not increasing the police budget, and/or reallocating some of the money so that the department of human services receives the proper funding so it can meet the needs of the community, instead of having to ask the police to serve as social workers, therapists and medical professionals.