So, what do people mean when they say 'defund the police'?

By Balthazar Malevolent


As millions of protesters gathered across the country to demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other police-killed black people, a related rallying cry has gained momentum: defund the police. It's an idea that has been popular for decades among activists and criminal-justice critics. However, it's gained unparalleled popularity over the past two weeks — and coverage from the national media. Defunding advocates contend that gradual police reform failed. A stronger approach, they say, would be to tackle more efficiently the structural causes that lead to violence, such as poverty and homelessness; this would be accomplished by reducing the often-astronomical budgets of police departments at the city level and redeploying the funds to social services, such as housing and youth.

US trooper.

So, then? How exactly is a country defunding the police? Was has ever been done in advance? Could they do it? Below, are the main aspects we need to know about the demand.

Defunding the police doesn't necessarily mean completely riding the police. Rather, it would mean cutting police budgets and reallocating those funds to critical and often-neglected areas such as education, public health, housing, and youth services. Law enforcement spends 21 percent of its time, according to some figures, responding to and transporting individuals with mental illness. Police are also frequently dealing with homeless people, which makes them incarcerated at a disproportionate rate.

Although several lawmakers call for reforming police forces through common sense approaches such as setting up community oversight committees and prohibiting "warrior style" training, which instructs officers to treat all incidents as risky and prioritize their own protection, activists claim that incremental change has failed to combat police brutality in some significant way. For instance, there was a national movement for officers to wear body cameras after a white cop shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014, which activists hoped would boost police transparency. It wasn't good. A comprehensive study of more than 2,000 police officers, published in 2017, found that body cameras had almost zero effect on dissuading officers from acting with unnecessary force; and, as evidenced by David McAtee's recent police shooting, officers could simply turn off cameras. Another example: more than two decades ago, the NYPD outlawed chokeholds, however, it did not stop officer Daniel Pantaleo from trapping Eric Garner in one until he stopped breathing.

Another factor changes weren't tenable are police unions, activists claim. Police unions aim to "win members better wages and benefits, and protect their job security — especially by pushing for safeguards against the investigation, discipline, and dismissal," writes Daniel DiSalvo, a professor of political science at New York City College, in the Washington Post. "These safeguards can make it difficult for police chiefs to effectively manage their forces and can allow irresponsible officers to act with impunity, poisoning the entire organizational culture in the process." Police collective bargaining agreements protect even the most violent officers from supervisory groups such as civil review boards and the internal police departments. Although Mayor Jacob Frey of Minneapolis banned warrior training, the Minneapolis police union has publicly opposed the ban, and now provides free "fear-based" training — priced at $55,000 — to any officer who wants it.

Another challenge advocates defunding face: police departments wield a huge amount of power and authority, and generally the evidence suggests that many зeople consider them to be trusted. As Eric Levitz points out, "There are only three institutions that perennially command a 'great deal' or 'quite a lot' of American confidence in Gallup's polling: the military, small business, and police." In a 2018 Gallup poll, 54 percent of Americans voiced a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of police confidence. (Nevertheless, a recent Data for Progress report found that public confidence in the institution fell during the ongoing protests against police brutality: 37% of the 1,352 people surveyed said they were less likely to trust them.) By supporting the police efforts, a prevailing argument goes, elected officials could risk alienating a significant portion of the population.

Although a handful of elected officials across the country have spoken out in support of defunding the police — including representatives such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who said she is actively advocating a "reduction of our NYPD budget"—most politicians are reluctant to support the action. Recently, the spokesperson for Joe Biden said the presidential candidate "supports the urgent need for change so that officers can concentrate on the police work," but not defunding. Even Bernie Sanders believes that defunding isn't the answer; instead, he thinks departments should educate, train and pay officers better.

Police unions, which possess tremendous political influence, are also fighting back against reforming criminal justice which would encourage openness and accountability. In the midst of the demonstrations, pressure has risen within unions representing police officers — especially the AFL-CIO — to remove all police affiliates; many of those opposing the unions also advocate defunding.

This is a move that will arise on a city-wide basis, not a regional one, and some mayors are already considering the requests of their voters to rethink how much money they spend on police. Last week, Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles revealed that he would slash as much as 150 million dollars from the police budget he proposed for the new fiscal year, but this would mean that the LAPD would still receive a whopping 50-plus percent of the city budget. Mayor de Blasio has recently revealed that, while he has not yet given up a dollar sum, he would transfer some of the city's police spending to places such as community services. The Seattle City Council has also indicated its intention to explore police defunding.

As of now, the City Council of Minneapolis has not released any information about their solution to defunding the $193.3 million police budget of the city, although some representatives have provided general ideas. "We should invest in cultural skills and mental health preparation, de-escalation and dispute resolution. Without drawing a weapon or taking out handcuffs, we should overcome misunderstanding over a $20 supermarket purchase," Councilman Steve Fletcher wrote: "The whole world watches. As we know this is a thing of the past, we can declare police and create a compassionate, non-violent future."

No results

Shop now