Should the police be defunded?
Following George Floyd's death and the rise of the #blacklivesmatter movement, America began debating whether removing police department funding altogether is a viable way to enact systemic change.
Rise of the Issue
After the death of George Floyd, a whole movement putting the police in question emerged, going from demands for police reform, for defunding the police, to some calls demanding to dismantle the police altogether. While definitions of the idea of defunding the police vary, the most widely accepted interpretation is that money should be taken out of police departments and invested in community resources such as mental health experts, housing, and social workers.
Many civil rights activists believe this is the way to decrease police brutality. The opposing side points out that law enforcement is already spread thin, and taking away resources could actually exacerbate social justice issues.
South Dakota Establishes First Slave Patrol
The aim of slave patrols was to capture and return enslaved people to their enslavers. These patrols functioned as the first publicly funded police force in the South.
Boston Establishes First Formal Police Department
Police officers often had little formal training and were appointed by politicians to preserve their power and business interests. By the 1880s, all major US cities had police departments.
President Hoover Appoints Wickersham Commission
Crime - and subsequently, corruption - were on the rise during the Prohibition and became a significant issue to the Hoover administration. The National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement was asked to look into corruption within police departments and make public policy recommendations.
Supreme Court Solidifies Due Process
In the case of Brown v. Mississippi, the Court ruled that a defendant's involuntary confession as a result of law enforcement using force violates the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and cannot be entered into evidence.
Police Officers Attack Protesters on Bloody Sunday
During the Selma marches, black protesters were met with excessive use of force by law enforcement officers.
George Floyd is Murdered in Minneapolis
George Floyd’s death sparked a wave of Black Lives Matter Protests around the world addressing police brutality and discrimination against people of color. “Defund the Police” became one of their main slogans.
The police are there to keep us safe, is what one side says, while the other points to how the police are actually a danger to people of color.
Since many law enforcement agencies are already stretched thin, one side argues taking away more funding will create additional problems, while the other side argues those resources could be better invested in matters such as housing, mental health care and social workers.
The two sides differ on the extent to which systemic racism is a problem within law enforcement agencies, with one side arguing that racial bias among police is a major factor in the overrepresentation of minorities in police arrests and killings, and the other believing that the numbers only reflect the reality police face in the field in certain communities.
More funding could go to mental health experts and social workers.
If less funding goes to the police, that money could be invested in mental health experts and social workers who can help prevent crime and circumstances that lead to crime.
Police reforms have not yielded the desired results.
Widespread efforts including training for implicit bias, mindfulness and de-escalation have not resulted in a significant decrease in police brutality.
Police are not trained to perform some of the jobs they are expected to.
Police are called in to deal with an array of non-criminal activities, such as mental health issues and homelessness. Redirecting resources allows experts to step in.
Modern day police departments stem from inherently racist institutions.
The first publicly funded police department was a slave patrol and modern day police departments have evolved from there. Its system is implicitly rooted in racism and defunding it could make way for other approaches.
Defunding can mean financing new alternatives to the police.
Defunding could open the door to the creation of a new kind of civilian protection service that isn’t rooted in looking at citizens as threats to be neutralized by force.
Less resources causing increased stress could lead to more violence.
With law enforcement resources already spread thin, further cutbacks could lead to officers taking on more responsibility and experiencing more stress - which could make them more likely to respond violently.
More people could be fined.
With less funding coming in, law enforcement officers could feel forced to write more tickets to generate enough income to continue to operate.
Lower pay could cause a shortage of police officers.
Defunding the police could lead to lower pay for officers, causing them to look elsewhere to put food on the table.
Increasing the police’s ties with communities can be an effective way of decreasing crime and use of force.
In New Jersey, crime rates dropped by 42 percent between 2012 and 2019, after officers were tasked with patrolling on foot, introducing themselves to residents, and hosting community barbecues to become more integrated into the community.
Defunding the police does not decide where resources are allocated.
Taking part of the budget away does not force law enforcement agencies to use their money in a better way. Concerns are that the first cuts will not be to guns or pepper spray, but community interaction programs and proper training.