When President Joe Biden said “the answer” to nationwide crime spikes was to defund the police, he reignited an intense debate about defunding police departments.
“The answer,” Biden said in his State of the Union address on March 1, “is not to defund the police. The answer is to defund the police. Defund them with the resources and training it needs to protect our communities.”
With that, more are looking deeper into whether funding can be effective in reducing crime rates. But some advocates who spoke with ABC News continue to question whether defunding policing and shifting funds to efforts like mental health services and youth programs is the ideal multi-pronged approach to fight against rising crime.
Across the country, major cities are grappling with worrying increases in crime rates.
For example, New York City saw a 38.5% increase in overall crime comparing January 2020 to January 2021 and Philadelphia’s 2022 homicide rate is beginning to exceed the dangerous and record high numbers of 2021.
And when crime rises, political leaders typically focus on boosting police budgets – a Wall Street Journal report found that about half of America’s 20 largest police jurisdictions have proposed increases in police funding. police in their 2022 budgets.
Yet after the summer 2020 racial tally following the killing of George Floyd by former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin, some have called for the police to be “defunded”.
Those who advocate for defunding the police say police department funds should be reallocated to other programs that address community issues like poverty, housing and more.
Those against defunding the police say cutting funding will make crime worse and leave police departments without the resources to do their jobs effectively.
“Without the police, you are left with … no line of defense between innocent people and the potential for lawlessness,” said Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Police Funding Facts
Nationally, $115 billion is spent annually on policing, according to criminal justice research and policy organization Vera.
According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the vast majority of police funding – around 80% to 95% of a department’s total budget – goes to personnel.
This means that most of the funds go to putting the police on the streets.
“One of the biggest expenses for any police department is their payroll,” Pasco said. “It’s about hiring and training these officers, on the street – it’s an extremely expensive business.”
Expenditures are also for equipment (such as equipment and patrol cars), operating costs (such as uniforms and office supplies), and funding for community programs.
Police departments across the country have reported to the Police Executive Research Forum that hiring has stagnated or declined, while quits and retirements have increased.
Those advocating for defunding the police say it proves money allocated to staff should go elsewhere, while others say it shows more money is needed to better train and retain good police.
“You need money to hire people,” Pasco said. “It takes money to recruit qualified people, hire them, train them and put them off the streets and put them to work.”
Others say the funding to put the police back on the streets isn’t worth it because the job has become nearly impossible to recruit.
Eugene O’Donnell, a former NYPD officer and lecturer at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says police are being forced to work longer hours and deal with dangerous situations with fewer back-ups due to low retention rates and hiring.
“You’re just not going to force humans to put on police uniforms, especially in places where they’re needed most. They’re not going to get anywhere near work now,” O’Donnell said. “People wanting the job will be scary.”
As a result, he says, departments — those who do or do not receive more funding — are extremely stretched.
Finance or definance: measure what is most effective
Factors such as lower crime, fewer violent or harmful police interactions, and successful community programs are just some of the considerations for some experts to consider increasing police funding a productive tactic.
But others, including Sakira Cook, senior director of the justice reform program at the Leaders’ Conference on Civil and Human Rights, say investing in more police presence and funding is not the way. to be continued.
“For decades, policymakers have pushed tough on crime policies that have not made us safer, but have only wreaked havoc and destroyed lives – especially in black and brown communities, while costing us billions,” Cook said.
She says tough-on-crime officials have often implemented strict criminal codes, long prison sentences and increased police power on the streets.
A University of Dayton Law Review study found that these types of policies did not reduce crime rates. Police Journal research also did not find a relationship between increased police presence and crime deterrence.
A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that additional officers may result in fewer homicides, but may result in more arrests for lesser crimes.
Hans Menos, vice president of law enforcement initiatives for the Center for Policing Equity, said these laws and funded efforts do not address the roots of crime – poor local infrastructure, accessibility to community programs and services, etc. .
“I much prefer conversations about funding and resources that talk about systems of care, like community development … all the other things that have been overlooked in favor of systems of punishment,” Menos told ABC News.
However, some departments have shifted resources and are now funding mental and behavioral health professionals who can respond to lower-level calls. Proponents say this reduces pressure on police, reduces community contact with police, and eases the burden on the criminal justice system.
“A lot of people have started these alternative responder programs with great success,” Menos said.
He added: “Programs that take social services and integrate them within policing succeed because they take the idea of a first responder and recognize that they have to be much more specialized and have to be much more responsive to community concerns.”
How Funded and Unfunded Police Services Measure Up
Some of the nation’s best-funded departments — many of which increased their budgets in 2021, including Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, DC — have seen an increase in violent crime. However, a few have seen significant declines, such as Wilmington, Delaware.
Several of the departments that cut budgets, including Portland, Oregon and San Francisco, also saw spikes in crime.
Some of the departments that cut their budgets have invested in mental health responders for low-level or non-violent calls.
Many of these programs are relatively new, so it is difficult to measure long-term success.
The complexity of the current state of policing in the United States has experts disagreeing on whether more funding or less funding is “the answer.”
“To make this investment in our communities, we must reduce the footprint of the criminal justice system in our lives, by right-sizing budgets and shifting resources from criminalization and incarceration alone to investments in social programs and services. “, said Cook.
Some believe that the police are no longer the public safety tool of choice with the way they currently operate.
“The policing profession at this point is beyond repair,” O’Donnell said. “And we better find other ways to keep the public safe.”
Some say the opposite.
“The vast majority of Americans want to feel safe in their homes, churches, schools, and transportation systems,” Pasco said. “Sometimes it takes police to make sure that’s a possibility.”