The term “defund the police” has become more prominent in recent years with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and increased exposure to incidents of police brutality. To defund something means to divest and frequently reallocate funds. In policing, defunding would mean reducing the massive police budget allocated in most regions and reallocating funds to other forms of community support. Many misunderstand the term and believe that defunding the police means that municipalities would be divesting all funds from police departments or abolishing police departments entirely. The notion of abolishing police, however, is separate from reducing and reallocating police funding.
The United States currently has a police budget of over one hundred and fifteen billion dollars (Bloomberg, 2020). Large cities such as New York, which has a ten and a half-billion-dollar police budget, tend to lack funds and resources in community support programs to help prevent people from getting in trouble with the law (Champeny, 2020). The root causes of crime often boil down to mental health disorders, inadequate housing, addiction, and a lack of employment or educational opportunities, which can ultimately lead to a low income (BBC).
Affordable housing, mental health counseling, education, job training, community-based youth programs, and substance-abuse treatment programs are all shown to help decrease crime occurrences and, therefore, police calls and the need for police (Brennan Center for Justice). If we reallocate a portion of the funds currently dedicated to policing and reinvest these funds into the aforementioned programs, we can limit crime levels, reduce the number of incarcerated people in the future and, ultimately, limit the need for policing.
A study from the New Haven Independent found that only 4.4% of police calls are for violent incidents. Many of the police calls for drug overdose are suicidal behavior, injuries, emotional disturbance, custodial interference, and welfare checks (Breen, 2020). Police are not trained to specialize in solving the majority of the issues they are called to address, which is often tragic.
The American Journal of Preventive Medicine has found that “20-50% of fatal encounters with law enforcement in the US involved a person with mental illnesses” (Degue, 2016). In December of 2020, Angelo Quinto was asphyxiated by police after his sister called 911, explaining that Quinto was experiencing a mental health crisis. Angelo Quinto later died from the injuries caused during this fatal interaction with police. The professionals who can adequately help these situations, such as individuals who specialize in psychological health, mental welfare, and addiction, are grossly underfunded and not given the opportunity to respond to these incidents.
The CAHOOTS program, a mobile crisis intervention team, was established as an alternative to police response for non-violent crises. CAHOOTS has implemented their program in two cities and has helped both municipalities save an average of 8.5 million dollars in annual public safety spending (Kolkey, 2020). CAHOOTS is a perfect example of how municipalities can reallocate funding to policing alternatives and have professionals equipped to respond to non-violent emergencies while simultaneously saving the cities millions of dollars.
Defunding the police is a win/win situation as it could decrease the amount of fatal encounters with police officers by 20-50%, reduce overall crime levels through community programming and give people who call 911 the appropriate assistance needed, all while lowering the price of public safety spending by millions of dollars.
Police funding dominates the community support budget for many municipalities across North America
Police are responding to situations that other community support agencies would be more well equipped to tend to
Defunding the police would aid in crime prevention by supporting community programs that limit crime. Defunding the police would also decrease the number of fatal encounters with police, reduce crime levels and incarcerations for non-violent crimes, and ensure that people who call 911 are given the appropriate assistance.