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Defunding the police: Calls across US grow to stifle law enforcement - but what does it actually mean?

Supporters of the movement believe funding towards law enforcement should go towards community-focused programmes 

Danielle Zoellner
Monday 08 June 2020 21:23 BST
Minneapolis officials pledge to disband police force

Calls across the nation have heightened in recent weeks to “defund the police” following the death of George Floyd at the hands of former Minneapolis police officers.

Protesters are encouraging state and local officials to defund police departments in order to boost up programmes that would make an impact on communities.

But what do these rally calls actually mean?

It is believed by supporters of the movement that moving funding from police departments to other industries could lessen police brutality and racial inequalities that arise between officers and citizens.

The movement of funding is not a new idea. Supporters have pushed in recent years that government funding should prioritise housing, employment, community health, education, and other vital programmes. Transferring funding from law enforcement – budgets that have typically increased in recent years across US cities – into these initiatives was thought to improve communities and address police brutality.

How large the defunding police departments would be ranges depending on who one talks to about the movement. Some believe police departments should remain but operate on lower budgets, while others believe in the complete abolition of this form of law enforcement to then be replaced in a different way.

The central viewpoint of all variations of this movement, though, focuses on the importance of rethinking how public safety should be addressed in cities and states across the nation.

All nine members of the Minneapolis City Council announced over the weekend they would work to dismantle the city’s police department. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has been against the complete dismantling of the department, but his veto would not work against all nine votes.

The council has not revealed what would be put in place of the police department, but one member said 911 calls would focus on medical care and mental health services over law enforcement.

The decisions happening in Minneapolis are on the more extreme side of calls to defund police departments. Other calls across the US involve just cutting down on funding to then be transferred to other areas.

State and local governments spent $115bn on policing in 2017, according to data compiled by the Urban Institute.

While law enforcement budgets have increased in a majority of cities across the US, budgets for healthcare, education, housing, and other programmes have decreased – causing frustration among citizens pushing for the defunding of police.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the city would cut $150m in its law enforcement budget, just two days after he initially pushed for a 7 per cent increase of that same budget.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also pledged to cut the NYPD budget, which currently stands at $6bn per year, by a specific amount to go towards social services. But he did not reveal how much would be cut. One New York City councilperson was pushing for $1bn cut.

MPD150, a community advocacy organisation in Minneapolis, was one group among others focused on disbanding police departments.

The group argues that first responders should not be “strangers with guns”, but instead medical personnel, mental health counsellors, and community members.

“The people who respond to crises in our community should be the people who are best-equipped to deal with those crises,” the organisation wrote on its website.

Calls to defund police have baffled some politicians and citizens, though, who are concerned that decreased law enforcement across the US would only heighten crime. But activist groups have argued that the law enforcement and prison systems in the US are systematically racist, making a community less safe.

Previous studies have also suggested less policing could lead to lower crime rates in communities.

In New York City for a few weeks between 2014 and 2015, NYPD officers staged a “slowdown” on policing in an effort to prove to residents that a lower force would make for more crime. But this experiment found that crime actually decreased by 2,100 crime complaints.

President Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed “law and order” president, accused Democrats of pushing forward “defund the police” rhetoric in recent days. But the suggestion has not been universally accepted by all Democrats.

Vice President Joe Biden, the presumed Democratic candidate, announced on Monday he was not for defunding police departments. Instead, in a statement, he advocated for more funding towards schools, community policing programmes, diversifying police departments, and other entities.

With the movement growing as protests continue across the US, more cities could see cuts in funding and changes to police departments to address the systemic problems.

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