defund police artwork on boarded up window

Photo by Renato Rotolo

What Defund the Police Means

defund police artwork on boarded up window
Photo by Renato Rotolo

Defund the police by opposing any proposed expansion of police budgets; don’t allow one more cent to fund excessive, brutal, and discriminatory policing.

Almost every city in the country is currently rethinking their municipal budget because of COVID-19. We have a unique opportunity to cut the spending of police forces that consume ever larger shares of city budgets, producing billions in savings that can be reinvested in a shared vision of community safety, infrastructure, and recovery that does not rely on the police.

Reducing those budgets can happen by:

  • Withdrawing police departments from state and federal grant programs that provide surveillance tech, military gear, weapons, training, and automated decision-making tools
  • Denying benefits/pay to police officers under investigation for using excessive force
  • Requiring police officers (not cities) to pay for misconduct lawsuits and use-of-force settlements
  • Removing police from schools and universities
  • Establishing non-police alternatives to 911 calls involving people with mental-health needs or other forms of health crisis
  • Repealing laws that hide/enable/excuse police violence and misconduct

If We Defund the Police, What’s an Example of an Alternative?

One example is a mental-health crisis: All of us may have friends and family impacted by mental-health issues, and because of that, we understand that care is complicated. If you have a friend or family member going through an episode, would you want the police to respond, knowing that the police might end up killing that friend or family member in the process? Or would you want someone who understands mental health; someone who has been there; someone who is trained to address the situation safely?

In Austin, Texas, 911 calls are answered by operators who direct callers to police/fire departments/mental-health services. We should be asking ourselves why we’ve made police involvement the default when these jobs could be done more safely by other people.

If We Defund/Disband the Police, Who’s Going to Keep People Safe?

Defunding the police doesn’t mean an immediate elimination of all law enforcement, nor does it mean immediately zeroing out police-department budgets. We know that peacekeeping is an essential service. But a transition from over-reliance on excessive, brutal, and discriminatory policing to right-sized, reorganized, and demilitarized safety strategies is the right way to go.

We can innovate new approaches to security and accountability that better serve the needs of the people without creating massive gaps in service. We learn from global partners non-militarized ways of preserving safety and enforcing laws.

Why Do We Have to Defund/Disband Police Departments Entirely?

If police departments are the problem, why can’t we focus on specific reforms?

Specific reforms are insufficient and too narrow in scope to make a meaningful difference; if piecemeal reforms worked, they would have worked by now. Current forms of policing are outdated and dangerous. Our only hope for the system we need is to reinvest in a shared vision of community safety, infrastructure, and recovery that does not rely on the police.

Divest and Invest

Defunding the police can be considered as a step towards abolition, by using funds allocated to police to invest in community initiatives intended to reduce crime and therefore the need for policing. In many US cities the police department is the largest single budget item.

Most marginalized communities would call for investing into their communities rather than in investing into policing as it exists today if they had direct control over city budgets. Communities are actually calling for and defining safety as “more safe spaces for our young folks to go to, more investment in education, access to good food, more affordable housing.

Defunding the police frees up funds to invest in community initiatives intended to reduce crime and therefore the need for policing. According to Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, “We’re ready to chip away at the line items inside of a police budget that really are nonsensical. Police should not be in charge of mental health crises. They should not be in charge of dealing with homelessness. They should not be in charge of ‘supporting’ people with drug dependency and addiction. Those are three line items which we can cut out of the police budget and then put that back into health care.”

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