Since the murder of George Floyd, the unarmed black man who died after police officer Derek Chauvin held him to the ground with his knee for almost nine minutes, many are asking their local officials to defund the police, so that money can go to other causes, such as education, healthcare, and services for the homeless.
The killing of unarmed African Americans has prompted a new debate over policing in this country. Do we need to spend as much money on policing when we could be addressing the issues that lead to crime in the first place?
The Costs of Policing America
Today, the U.S. collectively spends $100 billion a year on policing and another $80 billion on incarceration. These figures have been trending upward for decades, even as crime rates continue to fall across the country. From 1977 to 2017, state and local government spending on police increased from $42 billion to $115 billion, while accounting for inflation.
Civil Rights organizations, including Black Lives Matter and the Black Youth Project 100, make the case that we don’t need to spend as much money on policing when we should be paying attention to reasons individuals resort to crime in the first place, usually due to a lack of housing, food, income, and healthcare. Many police budgets also pull away from local and state funds that could be used to support residents, rather than locking them up. In some areas, 86% of police funding comes from local budgets.
Calls to Defund the Police
Major urban areas such as Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C. tend to spend more of their budgets on policing than smaller areas. For example, around 39% of Chicago’s tax revenue went to policing last year. The city also has one of the highest crime and murder rates in the country.
Studies show that spending more on policing rarely leads to fewer crimes. Additional policing tends to lead to over-policing, usually among minority communities and those of color. It usually means more stop-and-frisk, in which police officers pull over anyone that looks suspicious, forcing officers to rely on gut instincts and unconscious bias than actual crimes.
Since the murder of George Floyd, we’ve also heard calls to end the use of military gear among police officers. The Pentagon currently sends surplus military gear to local police departments. Between 1990 and 2017, the Defense Department provided $5.4 billion in military equipment to police departments across the country, including night-vision goggles, bomb-defusing robots, and 18-ton “mine-resistant, ambush-protected” vehicles that were previously used during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
As protests continue across the country, mayors and state governors are joining calls to change the way we police the general public. New York Gov. Andrew Como recently announced a plan to reduce funding to the NYPD by $23.8 million, but that only represents around 0.4% of the department’s $5 million budget. New York spends more on policing and incarceration than public health, education, public housing, homelessness, youth, and community programs combined.
L.A. Changes for the Better
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has just announced that he is revising the city’s budget for the 2020 – 2021 fiscal year. The budget for the LAPD was supposed to go from $1.189 billion last year to $1.86 billion, but the mayor is diverting these funds to more worthy causes. Instead of increasing the police budget, Garcetti is cutting an additional $250 million. This money will now go to health, public housing, youth and community services, including those that support minority residents.
Mayor Garcetti added during a press conference, “We need to make a firm commitment to change, not just with words but with action. We need to make sure that black Americans see an end to the days of murder in broad daylight and of traffic stops simply because of the color of their skin.”
L.A. residents have been pushing the mayor to scale back police funding for weeks after it was first announced that these funds would go to bonuses and pay raises for officers with college degrees. Minority residents were quick to call foul after being unfairly targeted by the police.
We may see more mayors and governors reducing police budgets in the future. In many cases, if residents have access to housing, affordable healthcare, and can make a decent living, they may be less likely to resort to crime, helping everyone feel safe.