The police murder of George Floyd was arguably one of the turning points in how people reassessed the police force, demanding governments and officials to “defund the police,” but what does that truly mean?
Problems have existed since the enactment of the first police department in the United States: slave patrols. Despite years having passed, the department has yet to become unbiased and hasn’t begun to neutralize its forces. Rather, budgets have grown at alarming rates, as American cities militarize their forces every year for billions of dollars.
Over $100 billion is invested in law enforcement, per state and city. This doesn’t even include the money that different states receive from other grants and resources, which can push the budget well past $100 billion. The recent demand for police to be held more accountable for their actions, and for racial inequalities and discriminations to end in general, brought forth a wave of protesters chanting “defund the police.”
In New York, for example, the budget for law enforcement exceeds the budgets for the Department of Health, services for the homeless, housing preservation and development, and youth and community services combined.
A common misconception is that defunding the police means eliminating the police altogether. The term ‘defund’ has certain negative connotations, but in this instance, the term simply means that funds need to be reallocated to community services and organizations outside of law enforcement.
Law enforcement has become a safety net for people in America, meaning, if your cat gets stuck in a tree, the police get called. If there’s a giant pothole on your street, someone will call the cops. Part of the issue lies here, in the fact that law enforcement has become a sort of “one-call fits all” type of organization. In fact, 9 out of 10 calls to the police are for nonviolent reasons that could be solved by organizations outside of the police.
When it comes to defunding the police and relocating these funds elsewhere, there are many organizations that need this funding, and with more funding, have the ability to help ease the demand of the police officers in the community. In doing so, there will be less police presence in communities, and fewer confrontations between officers and civilians. Some of the most optimal sources for these funds include education, community services and programs, health services and housing services, among other things.
In Los Angeles, nearly 30% of the $10.5 billion budget is allotted to law enforcement, whereas community services and housing both receive less than 1% of the said budget. The police department in Boston, MA has a proposed budget of $414 million for the year 2021, which is the second largest expense after public education. This doesn’t include the other $60.8 million being spent on police overtime.
There is a large call to remove law enforcement from schools, and instead put that money into better mental health programs and counseling at schools. Having a police presence in schools leads to the arrests of numerous students for minor offenses that can be solved by counselors and other support services in school, which would be funded using the money that currently funds police in schools. Rather than teachers requesting a police presence to resolve conflicts, specialists in mental and behavioral issues would be contacted.
Extensive research into the number of counselors in school versus police has yielded shocking results. Of the recommended student-to-counselor ratio, only three states meet it. This interactive map provides more information per state, including the actual ratio. There are at least 14 million students who attend schools with police, but no counselor, nurse, psychologist, or social worker. In schools, police do what they are trained to do no matter the violation or offense: detain, handcuff, and arrest.
There has been increased funding given to police in schools, yet no support or funding for added mental health counsel. In many states, there are two to three times the amount of police than any social worker or counselor. Unfortunately, these staggering ratios only add to the tension and disciplinary issues. 72% of students in America have experienced at least one trauma in their lives, and the guidance of trained professionals is not readily available for them. There has been no evidence found that suggests a police presence in schools is beneficial, while contrarily, school-based mental health providers have proved to be beneficial in multiple respects.
Reallocating police funds would open up possibilities such as free education, free health care and mental health services, larger investments into transportation systems and affordable housing opportunities, and it would provide more affordable help for those in need. This would include greater access to mental health services, assistance for elderly people, and programs and funds for people living with disabilities.
The main idea is that defunding the police doesn’t mean that crime is going to skyrocket because where the money is invested will, in essence, make up for the lack of police presence in healthier, safer ways for their community. Not only this, but the act of separating police work from menial tasks creates a stronger sense of community, provides faster, and more affordable help, and allows officers to focus their energy and time on tasks that better fit their job description.
Police will no longer be tasked with petty crime or drug-related offenses – this will be diverted to an organization receiving more funding after police budget cuts. Instead, police officers will devote their time and resources to serious offenses such as rape and murder. Of over 10 million arrests that happen each year, only 5% consist of arrests made for serious crimes, thus what leads to mass incarceration. Defunding the police means serious crimes receive more attention and resources, incarceration rates go down, and people get the help that they need. (Such as drug or mental health issues.)
Here’s the thing: police officers are trained to prepare for the worst-case scenario, and their training involves combat methods and forceful tactics that don’t fit the majority of the calls they go on. For this reason, investing in community services that could better help people, benefits everyone. Rather than calling 911 for a mental health episode, programs and call centers can be set up specifically for this or having the police respond to a drug-related instance, which can actually be solved by community drug counselors and programs.
Defunding the police isn’t eliminating the police, it’s finding more resourceful and smart ways to use the $100 billion budgets allocated to police in the first place. It’s helping communities be better and resolve their problems without criminalizing them. It’s not having police partake in menial activities, but about eliminating police involvement and arrests involving minor offenses.