Reallocation of police funds is a much needed step in police reform
By J. Tyler O'Connor
It is crucial to consider how budgets are administered by police departments when discussing criminal justice reform. In the United States, many police departments receive millions of dollars in funding from cities to spend on equipment, officer salaries, and more.
Take, for example, the Phoenix Police Department, which at one time had a budget of $500 million. Kevin Robinson is the former police chief of the department and administered this budget.
“The vast majority of the budget went to personnel costs,” Robinson said.
Officer salaries, as well as healthcare and benefits for the officers, accounted for most of the expenditures. At that time in 2012, the department employed close to 4,000 people.
Data indicates that over time the amount of spending from police departments has been significantly increasing. For example, Austin, Texas has increased police spending by 77% between 2000 and 2017.
These large budgets for police departments mean that social services, such as crisis prevention and response operations, do not receive as much funding. When this happens, well-funded police departments respond to crisis situations, many times mental health emergencies, for which they are not trained. In situations like this, a crisis response team could better handle the emergency if there was greater funding for them.
Over the past several years, police departments have continued to increase the amount of spending on personnel costs and maintaining facilities, which has become more expensive over time. This led to their budgets increasing to match this increased spending. Robinson stated that, for the most part, taxpayer dollars are used to fund these rising costs.
In the past several months, activists calling for police reform have been demanding, specifically, to “defund the police.” However, it’s not necessarily defunding the police that activists are calling for; rather, they are demanding the reallocation of funds from police departments to other social services.
Reallocating funds has shown positive results in Eugene, Ore., through the CAHOOTS program. CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) is a crisis response team that will respond to non-violent calls in place of the police. If there is a need for backup, then the crisis team can call the police.
“Oftentimes, police officers are not properly trained to handle a mental health emergency which could easily result in serious personal injury. Granted they [police officers] have a really tough job, and I applaud all of them for doing their jobs, but they’re really not trained for someone having those types of issues [mental health emergency],” Robinson said.
Instead of having police respond to a situation they are not properly trained to handle, it makes sense to have a medical professional who knows how to handle the situation be the first to arrive at the scene. Reallocating funds from police departments and giving those dollars to programs like CAHOOTS would significantly impact the way certain emergencies are handled and the outcomes of these situations on individuals.
Reallocating funds away from police departments could potentially have some drawbacks as well. The primary drawback Robinson talked about is the public getting used to not calling the police for everything. For example, people may need to dial a different number for a mental health emergency or other issues that police departments should not be responding to.