The Other Side of Defund the Police
By Miranda Smith
Police reform has been one of the most talked-about topics over the past few months. There has been a public outcry for one change: less funding. Some people adopted a catchphrase: Defund the Police.
How much do U.S. cities actually spend on policing? One place to look is the general fund expenditure of 2020. The general fund is used to support city services such as police, fire, and parks, as well as planning, community development, and administrative support services. New York City had a total police budget of $5.61 billion in the 2020 fiscal year. This is almost 8 percent of the general fund expenditure. The next largest American cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston don’t come nearly as close to the expenditure of New York. These three cities have around $1.7 billion to $930 million each going to police budgeting which is about 37-25.5 percent of the general fund expenditure. Despite these large numbers, some believe that police departments do not need to be reformed financially. Dr. Joel Shults, a retired police chief, trainer, and writer, does not believe the police need to be defunded.
“There is a narrative that has been promoted that says that the police have too much power, they have too much influence, they take too much budget, they're too expensive. In my view that is an entirely false narrative. To try and explain why people are thinking the police need to be defunded or that some of their resources need to be peeled off and put into other social services resources, I don't see a lot of real data, informed, logically progressed opinions that support that proposition,” Dr. Joel Shults said when asked why he thinks people believe police departments are overfunded, “Just looking at raw numbers really doesn't tell one very much about what the return on the investment is for policing. I think it’s just a political narrative that has been very effectively promoted and some of the allegations of police misconduct that are very, very public have been leveraged to advance the argument that we need fewer police officers and less policing in general.”
Shults spent over 45 years working in criminal justice, 30 years of that being in uniformed law enforcement and working in criminal justice education. He’s held roles from academy instructor, police chaplain, deputy coroner, investigator, community relations officer, college professor, and police chief, among others.
“I would never say of any organization, whether it be a grocery store chain, or a local fire department, or a branch of the government, or policing in general, have reached such a point of perfection that there’s no honing or reformation that needs to be done, so I will always be an advocate. Over my 40-45 year career in law enforcement, I have seen tremendous changes and enhancements and improvements. We’ve got the best policing in the world and the best policing we’ve ever had right now; better education, better training, better funding, more just laws in terms of the defendant's perspective, more restrictions on law enforcement, more accountability for law enforcement. This notion that law enforcement is not accountable is absolutely specious, it's just simply not true. There is no other profession that has that amount of accountability.”
While many may not agree with Dr. Shults's opinion he offers a look into how officers feel about their funding. While many feel that these departments are overfunded those on the inside believe that they are receiving the correct funding and are growing into a stronger department each and every day. While this may be how police officers feel that is not what the statistics say.
According to an article from Politico.com, since 1994 police budgets have risen 46 percent while homicides have decreased 32 percent. This decrease in homicides comes after the 1994 Crime Bill was passed. This is also known as the “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.” While this bill enacted and legislated may have decreased homicides many believe that it is the reason behind the mass incarceration rates. This bill planned to have 100,000 new peace officers, $9.7 billion in funding for prisons, and $6.1 billion in funding for prevention programs, which were designed with significant input from experienced police officers. Unfortunately, money did not go all to the right places.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) distributes money from grants started under the bill to states. The largest chunk of this funding comes from one specific grant, the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program. JAG can be used not just for the police department but also for mental health treatment, courts, rehabilitation, etc. More than half of the funding from JAG goes to law enforcement.
There is no almost no funding going toward crime prevention or victim services, two of the most important areas when trying to build up a community after it has been riddled with crime. These numbers leave us wondering why police and many others feel that the police do not need to be defunded. Many believe there are positive changes coming to government funding in the future.