One year since a nationwide movement sparked calls for slashing police funding in favor of other nontraditional forms of public safety, it’s not clear whether any city achieved anything resembling what protesters demanded: massively defunded or abolished police departments.
The calls to cut funding and overhaul policing came after a police officer in Minnesota killed George Floyd by kneeling on his neck, and video of the encounter set off one of, if not the, largest protest movements in American history.
Some departments defunded, at the insistence of protesters, cutting some from their budget without resorting to layoffs, and those departments saw changes in how they had to work. Nearly all major American cities are seeing spikes in violent crime. Republican politicians have used the “defund the police” movement as a political bludgeon against Democrats. President Joe Biden is on the record against defunding law enforcement. A recent public disagreement between Democratic representatives Jim Clyburn and Rashida Tlaib highlighted a division among democrats in how to approach changes to policing.
All these appear to be serious barriers for the police reform movement focused on defunding or abolishing police departments.
In Los Angeles, the city is poised to reinstate some funding cut from its department, which is raising questions about whether this will be a pattern seen elsewhere in the country. That department will see an increase in funding that restores some cuts, but doesn’t put staffing at a pre-pandemic level.
“From police transformation hitting headwinds, I think I would say it’s actually getting more mature, which is to say it is bumped up against some realities and that’s not such a bad thing,” said Rosa Brooks, an associate dean at Georgetown Law. “I don’t actually think the momentum is going away. But I do think that people have been hit with the complexity of the situation, and that has forced a more nuanced discussion which is a good thing, not a bad thing.”
“The ‘defunding the police,’ I think was not a helpful slogan, and I think that the shift to slogans like ‘re-imagining public safety’ is a much more constructive one, and is likely to lead to much better discussions and less likely to just push people away from the start,” she said.
Laura Cooper, the executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, said police chiefs in cities across the country met last week to discuss current issues facing police departments. Chiefs talked about the increase in gun violence, the increase in younger shooters who see guns as tools for conflict resolution, as well as the defund the police movement.
“There has not been a universal defund movement across major cities,” Cooper said. “I think there was a little bit of retooling of the department budgets, but I can’t say that defund has actually played out. The sustained increase in violent crime, the gun violence that we’ve been seeing, and calls from the community that they don’t want less police, they want better police, seems to be resonating.”
The city of Los Angeles cut its police department budget last July by $150 million, limiting overtime pay and reducing staffing to its lowest levels in over a decade. The cuts were made during a summer filled with protests against police brutality and followed an uproar over Mayor Eric Garcetti’s original budget proposal to increase police spending to $1.86 billion from $1.73 billion the year before. Police reform advocates in the city called the cuts “a start,” but noted that police spending was still slated to make up over half the city’s discretionary spending.
However, almost a year later, Garcetti is now seeking to increase the LAPD’s budget by 3% to $1.76 billion. Like in many major cities, homicides and other forms of violent crime in Los Angeles have risen sharply in the past year, and the LAPD is facing an unexpected staffing shortage. The LAPD was expected to have roughly 9,750 officers at the end of June 2021 — but an increase in retirements and resignations have left the department with about 9,450 officers, which Garcetti is hoping to expand with this year’s budget.
“We were reduced from a 10,100 person organization to 9,750 and we have fallen below that because of the pandemic and the economic pullback that occurred across America,” Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore said on Erin Burnett Out Front.
“We have fallen below 9,500 officers. This budget is going to allow us to start hiring, to start putting cops through the academy and back on the streets to get back to the 9,750 officers. So we’ll still have, and we will still shoulder, the cutbacks that were placed on us a year ago.”
Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter — Los Angeles, said they’re hoping to stop that hiring.
“We’re hopeful that the people will stay engaged and that we can hold our elected officials accountable, and remind them that just because we’re moving beyond what people are calling the George Floyd moment that it’s not a moment, it’s a movement, and we need to have police defunded and invest those dollars into things that actually make communities safe,” she said.
Homicides and aggravated assaults in the city has increased over the last two years. Year to date, homicide up 26.5 percent over 2020, up 44.9 percent over 2019. Aggravated assault is up 12.8 percent year over year, and 11.3 percent over 2019. Overall violent crime is up year-over-year 5.8 percent, driven by homicide and aggravated assault numbers.
The overall city budget, proposed at $11.2 billion, was bolstered in large part by the $777 million the city will receive from the American Rescue Plan, and is a sharp increase from last year’s $10.5 billion city budget. And while the LAPD’s budget will increase, the city is also allocating large increases in spending to address homelessness, economic recovery from the pandemic and other issues facing the city. The share of the city’s unrestricted revenues spent on police will also decrease, from 53% in 2020 to 46% in 2021.
Activists have called for diverting funding for police to other non-police services to handle calls where it’s believed someone’s having a mental health problem. Moore told CNN that he’d welcome additional social services, especially available around-the-clock.
“America has got to stop being cheap when it comes to its investment in mental health services and stop relying on police and fire to be the 911 in those type of needs,” he said. “But until that happens, until we build that capacity … we’re called upon to fill that gap.”
“What I look forward to, whether it be Black Lives Matter or any other organization, is working with them to identify and build, actually build, not notionalize, but actually put the hundreds of mental health workers, outreach workers and engagement for those experiencing homelessness, in the streets across the 24-hour clock,” he said.
Protesters and at least one city council member, pushed for a reduction of half to be achieved in part by not sending officers to mental health or homelessness calls. They even set up a police-free area, ceded to them by the city. But according to CNN reporting, they immediately had to deal with all those issues and more — with only the donated time and supplies of fellow protesters, who still had day jobs. With police absent from the six-square-block area, the experiment spun out of control, with accusations that it ended up causing exactly what it had aimed to stop: more violence against Black people.
In September, a total of thirty-nine officers quit or retired from the department, CNN affiliate KIRO reported. Over 100 left in 2020, higher than in any year since at least 2012, the department told the affiliate.
“We are losing an unprecedented number of officers, which makes it even more critical that we recruit and retain officers committed to reform and community policing that reflect the diversity and values of our city,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement to KIRO.
The departure and unrest came as the city saw its highest homicide number in 26 years, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
The Austin City Council cut its police department budget last year after protests related to both local incidents and incidents of police use-of-force across the country. According to the Texas Tribune, much of that was done by “reorganizing some duties out from law enforcement oversight.”
At the time, the most concrete cuts to the police department were by eliminating classes of new officers, though officials at the time left open the possibility of a class this year.
“The possibility of holding a cadet class in FY21 is dependent on numerous factors and will be reassessed throughout the year,” city spokesman Andy Tate wrote in an email to The Texas Tribune.
“This is what defunding the police looks like. Austin is incapable of timely responding to a victim shot in the head. Texas won’t tolerate this. We’re about to pass a law — that I will sign — that will prevent cities from defunding police,” he tweeted.
According to Kenneth Casaday, the Austin Police Association president, the city is down about 150 officers over the past 18 months from more than 1,830 to about 1,680. This was done by not hiring new recruits, each of which takes about a year to complete training and probation.
Because the city has fewer officers, it’s more difficult to meet minimum staffing levels. Each patrol area of the city has at least one “shift” of officers that is supposed to have 10 officers and two supervisors. They work as a group, and some areas are covered by more than one shift.
If a shift falls below 80 percent staffed, the department can offer overtime. But many officers don’t want to be at work any longer than required, Casaday said, so people aren’t taking overtime opportunities. This leaves some shifts with only three officers, he said.
“People are so burnt out, they’re not working overtime when it’s available. They’ll allow (working) overtime on days off but people just come to the point, they don’t want to be here more than they have to be,” he said.
“I don’t blame people who want to give money to social workers. Public education has failed, and parenting,” Casaday said. “People always blame the police, nobody wants to look at schools and other entities. It’s wrong and misguided. We’re part of the conversation but nobody wants to talk about the other issues.”
The surge of violence in the city, including the shooting of a toddler in Times Square, brought the issue of crime into the city’s mayoral race. Deputy Commissioner John Miller tweeted a video of an officer sprinting with the girl toward an ambulance.
Candidates were pressed on the issue at a recent forum with Spectrum News NY1. Kathryn Garcia, who’s leading the field, called for a mutli-faceted enforcement approach to gun violence that included a squad of “gun suppression” police officers working with federal law enforcement officers.
“I have a plan that includes making sure that we have the gun suppression division, which targets gun traffickers and gun violence, and has been disrupting that violence over the last year,” she said.
“The police are going to be a core, core way for us to address the public safety concerns that so many New Yorkers have, and let me be clear, defund the police is the wrong approach for New York City,” said Andrew Yang, who’s running for mayor. “You have to start by saying to the police very clearly that you are vital to our city’s recovery because there is no recovery without public safety.”
Eric Adams, who followed Yang, pointed to crime stats as proof of the need to target gang behavior and gun pipelines.
“We’re going to lose more young people, 95 percent of those victims who are victims to gun violence are Black and brown, 95 percent of the shooters are Black and Brown,” he said. “We’re talking about Black lives matter. We must deal with police misconduct, but we have to deal with this real pervasive handgun problem.”
New York City cut more than $1 billion from its $6 billion police budget last year, done by cutting $484 million and diverting $354 million to other agencies “best positioned to carry out the duties that have been previously assigned to the New York Police Department.” The approved budget also cut overtime spending by $352 million. The cuts came just weeks after protests across the country in response to the death of George Floyd.
At the time, a professor of police science told CNN that “drastic budget cuts would affect every facet of policing in America.”
“With crime increasing, you cannot afford to dilute the deployment,” said Maria Haberfield. “There’ll be cuts to overtime. Investigations will suffer. Response times will suffer — everything we ask the police to improve in terms of response time, in terms of clearing investigations and finding people responsible for various crimes.”
The budget approved for the 2021 budget year, and later modified, ended up about $5.38 billion. The department proposed a budget increase for the 2022 budget year of about one percent over the 2021 budget year.