The idea of defunding the police has been around for decades, but the movement picked up steam as protests erupted nationwide following George Floyd’s death while in the custody of Minneapolis police in May.
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The exact intentions of those who rally under the “defund the police” movement exist on a spectrum. Some want a gradual shift in budgets from policing to other types of public services, while others want a complete abolition of police departments and restructuring of public safety.
Black Lives Matter Managing Director Kailee Scales explained recently that defunding the police could free up funds for other services.
“America spends 100 billion dollars on policing, and another 80 billion on incarceration, where Black people are disproportionately targeted,” she said. “What if we used our tax money to put towards other services, like education, like health care, like housing?”
America spent $115 billion on police in 2017, according to a recent study by the Urban Institute. That’s nearly three times as much as the United States spent on police in 1977 when just $42 billion went to law enforcement.
Some cities have already started trimming back their police budgets in response to protests.
The Los Angeles City Council voted this month to cut $150 million from the LAPD’s $3 billion annual budget, according to the Los Angeles Times. Mayor Eric Garcetti had been pushing for a 7 percent increase to the LAPD budget earlier this year but has since abandoned that move.
Los Angeles City Councilmember Herb Wesson said last month that the city has also “approved the first step in our plan to replace LAPD with a community-based, unarmed emergency responders for non-violent calls for service.”
Minneapolis City Councilmember Steve Fletcher said he and several of his colleagues are looking into how to disband the Minneapolis police department and “start fresh with a community-oriented, non-violent public safety and outreach capacity.”
New York City officials agreed on an $88 billion budget last week that would shift roughly $1 billion away from the New York Police Department.
But this didn’t placate activists who want to defund the police, as they argued the $1 billion shift ultimately amounted to some accounting tricks. For instance, the Gotham Gazette reported nearly half the cuts involved just moving spending on school safety to the Department of Education.
NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea also announced on June 15 that the NYPD is disbanding its undercover anti-crime unit, which consisted of roughly 600 cops in plainclothes spread throughout the city.
This comes as New York City, known as the “safest big city in the country,” is grappling with a surge in shootings. The New York Times reports gun violence in June was the highest it’s been in 25 years and that shootings have been increasing week-over-week for more than two months.
Some prominent members of the Black community are now criticizing the elimination of the anti-crime unit in the wake of the shooting surge.
“I think that a total elimination is something we need to reevaluate,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams told CBS New York this week. “Right now, bad guys are saying if you don’t see a blue and white you can do whatever you want.”
At the federal level, top Democrats have mostly shied away from the slogan. Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, told reporters last month she agrees with the sentiment but won’t rally under it, according to Politico.
“I think it can be used as a distraction and that’s my concern,” she said. “I think the intent behind it is something that I support — the idea that communities need investments.”
The president did sign an executive order on June 16 that will increase the use of social workers and mental health professionals for certain calls. The order also will create new guidelines for the use of force and create a national police misconduct database.