Across the nation today, protestors called on officials to “defund the police”. Activists who have long fought to cut law enforcement budgets say they are seeing an unprecedented wave of support for their ideas, with some elected officials for the first time proposing budget reductions and divestments from police. Here’s what we know about the movement, and how cities and states are responding.
What does it mean to ‘defund the police’?
For years, community groups have advocated for defunding law enforcement – taking money away from police and prisons – and reinvesting those funds in services. The basic principle is that government budgets and “public safety” spending should prioritize housing, employment, community health, education and other vital programs, instead of police officers. Advocates argue that defunding is the best way forward since attempts to reform police practices over the last five years have failed, as evidenced by the brutal killing of George Floyd. Groups have a range of demands, with some seeking modest reductions and others viewing full defunding as a step toward abolishing contemporary police services.
How much does America currently spend on police?
In the past four decades, the cost of policing in the US has tripled and is now $115bn, according to a recent analysis. That steady increase comes as crime has been consistently declining. In most cities, spending on police is significantly greater than spending on services and other departments ($1.8bn on police in Los Angeles, for example, which is more than half the city’s general fund). The Covid-19 economic crisis has led cities and states to make drastic budget cuts to education, youth programs, arts and culture, parks, libraries, housing services and more. But police budgets have grown or gone largely untouched – until pressure from protests this week