The phrase “defund the police” has quickly gained popularity in the past two weeks, but as this Washington Post piece explains, the term isn’t nearly as radical as it may sound. It isn’t a call to eliminate the police entirely – it is simply meant to draw attention to the outsized funds that police departments receive from state and local governments, often accounting for more than a third, and sometimes more than half, of an entire budget in normal times. In the middle of an unprecedented economic and health crisis, police departments are often the only government entity that aren’t seeing any budget cuts whatsoever.
Major American cities highlight the problem. In Los Angeles, for example, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s new budget for 2020-21 proposes allocating 54% of city funds to the LAPD. New York City’s policing budget is $5 billion, more than the city spends on agencies for health, homeless services, housing, and youth development combined. Chicago spends 39% of its resources on policing, and has proposed increases this year.
You don’t have to agree with all the protests to see the issue here. Consider, instead, this question: are we really getting what we pay for with these massive policing budgets? If states and local governments are going to sacrifice public services for their police, it makes sense to ensure that they’re getting the optimal value for their citizens.
Overwhelmingly, however, evidence suggests that we are not. Thereis little or no evidence that suggests more policing has a significant impact on crime, and plenty that shows it simply increases violent altercations between people of color and the police. So what actually does reduce crime? Investing directly in public services like education, healthcare, transit, and community development – these have proved to be the best way.
And we want more self-policing among the police, and more careful recruitment, weeding out the minority of racists and thugs using psychological testing, before they get their stun guns and uniforms!