More than a year after George Floyd’s murder, Minneapolis residents will vote on the future of their city’s police department. After calls to defund the police, Minneapolis officials voted on the final ballot options residents will choose from in November. The ballot will ask voters if the city’s police department should be replaced with a public safety department instead.
Proposed by the Yes 4 Minneapolis Coalition, the public safety department will, “change the current police-only model of public safety to allow the City of Minneapolis a funded, accountable and comprehensive public health approach to public safety.” Advocates of the new department say the revised charter will include, “licensed peace officers (police officers),” and “professionals who are trained in mental health issues and crisis de-escalation.”
What does “defunding the police” look like?
Defunding the police can mean different things to different people. Mixed definitions and terms like “defund”, “reform”, and “abolish” tend to cause confusion among arguing groups. At the most basic level, defunding means reallocating police budgets to some degree. Exactly what degree is debated. Those who wish to abolish the police would normally respond with “all” by disbanding the police entirely. Reform, meanwhile, usually implies some type of transformation. However, abolitionists argue that something this broken cannot be reformed.
More than 20 cities have already decreased their police budgets in some capacity across the United States. At the same time, however, lawmakers from 26 major cities have increased their police budgets. According to Interrupting Criminalization, advocate groups removed $840 million from police departments across the country in 2020. They also secured $160 million for community investments. These numbers pale in comparison to the yearly $100 billion police budget. However, they are a step towards reallocating funds and resources in helpful ways.
This is exactly what “defunding the police” means- using some money normally given to the police to reinvest in communities. These laws will not go so far as to abolish the police, a disappointment to many activists and abolitionists. However, cities that have cut funding are hoping that this department transformation will be the future of public safety.
Pilot programs pave the way
Many cities have created pilot programs to test the idea. Austin, Texas, for example, has taken a third of the police budget and reallocated that money to different community services. These services include, “emergency medical services for Covid-19, community medics, mental health first responders, services for homeless people, substance abuse programs, food access, workforce development, abortion services, victim support, parks and more.” 911 calls from people in crisis are being transferred to mental health professionals and the city plans to buy two hotels to house the homeless.
Gregorio Casar, an Austin City Council Member, explained that “For decades, Austin has spent so many dollars policing homelessness, jailing the homeless, and paying for emergency rooms and 911 calls instead of reinvesting those same dollars to finally start reducing homelessness.” Now, with the help of the reallocated funds from the police budget, the council member is hoping, “that we can solve the mental health crisis with treatment and care, not with handcuffs and jail.”
New York City also created a pilot program that sent social workers to respond to mental health 911 calls for a month. The results are very promising. By sending three unarmed professionals to help those in crisis instead of police, more people were helped and fewer were hospitalized. Data shows that when police are sent in similar cases, only 82% of people accept help. With the mental health professionals, that number jumped to 95%.
In the wake of these police cuts, many Republicans have tried to use new crime statistics to create fear in their constituents. While they are citing correct statistics, they are attributing them to false claims. Over the past year, there has been a significant increase in homicides across America. While these increases have occurred in cities that have decreased police budgets, homicides have increased equally in cities that had similar or even increased budgets.
Of course, Republican lawmakers and politicians only talk about the crime increase in democrat-run cities that have cut funding. By doing so, they are creating the false and harmful narrative that their fan base wants to hear instead of presenting the actual facts. There is no evidence that links the increased homicides to defunding the police. Instead, the National Commission on Covid-19 and Criminal Justice believe the increase could be caused by pandemic stress, like personal and economic loss, as well as a rise in gun ownership.
Despite the promising results of pilot programs, policing is a hotly contested topic. With the continuing development of these programs, hopefully, the public will be able to see a different future for public safety. As the Yes 4, Minneapolis Coalition states, the future of policing needs to change, “so that all of us, no matter what we look like or which neighborhood we live in, have an equal opportunity to live safely and securely.”