It's not controversial on this sub to say "Defund the police is a bad idea", but it is worth it - particularly given the reaction to the last post
- and particularly now that there are certain people
who are trying to rescue the idea from the slogan
- so it probably will
be useful to create an actual reference point for why
it's a bad idea, that also comes coupled with what can be done instead. The good news is, this is no longer a theoretical idea - there's actually some examples of it being put into practice, and we can look at those and how it looks on real police budgets. It goes without saying that these examples aren't necessarily satisfying to the people who push for defunding, so they're not necessarily perfect representations of what they actually want - but I think they demonstrate why the idea isn't worthwhile in the first place.
But first, since the last post was found by people who don't frequent this subreddit, I feel the need to clarify: The actual abuses of police power and the criminal justice system we've seen not just this year, not just over the last six years since Ferguson (it really was that long ago), but for some of us we've seen our entire lives, are nothing short of a pure moral atrocity, and the fact that government departments who are supposed to be reliable touchstones of safety can betray entire segments of the community so consistently and seemingly without fear of reprisal for so long, is such a profound issue that radical reform should
be on the table. Ideas about what to do with police needn't be dismissed out of hand just because they're radical. The problem with defunding the police isn't that it's radical, it's that it's wrong. It's not gonna work, there's not much of a way it can work, it's not really compatible with other solutions, it's just a bad idea. Supporting full police abolition is unironically more sensible than police defunding, and I'm serious about that. Police abolitionists don't need to answer any questions about how cops can still reduce crime rates and maintain community perceptions of police effectiveness, after all.
Likewise, don't take this to mean that only
radical solutions should be on the table either. The solutions we favour should be, exclusively, the ones that meaningfully fix the justice system overall, and policing in particular.
With that out of the way: New York Police "Defunding"
You can find a decent treatment of this here, which goes into some of the specific issues with the New York plan, and you should read it.
The NYPD budget is 10.9 billion dollars - viewing defund arguments at their most charitable and sane,
it's literally no wonder that anyone who's usually politically told "the policy you don't like is unaffordable" will look to something like that to cut the fat.Earlier in the year, Bill de Blasio announced the intention to move one billion dollars of police funding to other services
, which sounds like a huge amount except for the fact that NYC's 2021 budget is 92.8 billion dollars.
The Executive Budget proposed a $10.7 billion NYPD City-funded budget in fiscal year 2021, which was reduced by $474 million in the Adopted Budget. (See Table 1.) Fully 75 percent of the reduction, or $354 million, is in overtime expenses. Another $81 million in savings comes from cancelling the July Police Academy Class.
Like the article says, dramatic reductions in overtime expenses are not a meaningful long term budget cut. This isn't really "defunding", so much as it is a temporary budget restriction. Given how tight the NYC budget already is, some budget cuts to the police shouldn't be too surprising. But it's pretty hard to see - for everyone, really - how this type of budget cut gets anywhere near to the goal of "defunding in order to fund other services".
The budgeted overtime reduction amounts to a 56 percent cut to the fiscal year 2021 NYPD overtime budget compared to the Executive Budget, and a 67 percent decline from fiscal year 2020. [...] These savings are unrealistic; they were not accompanied by a plan or operational strategy, and prior efforts to reduce overtime at the uniformed agencies have been more successful in slowing growth rather than decreasing expenses. The Mayor’s Office contends fewer events (such as parades) will result in less overtime for officers; however, these events comprised 25 to 30 percent of all uniformed police overtime spending in recent years, meaning overtime reforms would need to be far-reaching and potentially negotiated with labor unions to achieve the steep reduction currently budgeted.
Even cutting from overtime for short-term major budget cuts is extremely difficult, and would need to be negotiated with unions, and even then, doesn't really seem to be the meaningful amount people who want defunding are really shooting for. If we take a closer look at the NYPD operating budget, we can learn a bit more about why it's so hard to meaningfully make an actual, substantial one billion dollar cut from it
of the NYPD operating budget is for salaries and wages. Operating expenses for vehicles, maintenance, etc, makes up only 12% of the operating budget. A full 17% of that is for admin duties, with 33% of NYPD employees being civilians. There's not a huge amount of ways to defund this without cutting jobs.
But the NYPD budget never used to be this high. Why has it inflated so much?
Most of the NYPD’s operating budget growth was due to increased spending on administration and communications, patrol, and intelligence and counterterrorism. Together, these account for 61 percent of the operating budget increase from fiscal year 2010 to 2020.
I think it's worth noting that both the Department of Education and Department of Social Services have way higher budgets in New York than the NYPD does, if only to put that 10.9 billion dollar figure in perspective. But operating budget aside, there is another place defunders could look to cut from the NYPD budget -the central expenses, which include debt services, retiree benefits, pension funds, etc.
Because while the increase in the operating
budget is mostly due to admin, more patrols, and counterterrorism, that doesn't account for the shift from 2.8 billion to 10.9 billion dollars.
In the past, even well-intentioned reformers have had trouble hacking away at these costs because of unusual state constraints. A state constitutional amendment, for instance, limits the ability of municipalities to reform or reduce pension costs once a worker joins the system, even for work that the employee has not yet performed. This means that once a municipality hires a person, the rate at which the employee earns pension benefits cannot be reduced for the rest of his career. By contrast, pension laws in most other states let an employer change the rate of pension benefits for future work. In New York, the only recourse to savings is to change benefit rates for workers not yet hired, though it takes years for those savings to kick in.
The City-Journal article about this is a good read as well, and if you look closely you'll notice a few potential opportunities for ways to take money out of the budget in the long run (in particular, the Medicare age being at 65 when police generally retire younger stands out as something wroth at least looking into for someone who has more time than me), but you'll also see again how the police union stands in the way of most changes you could make to this system.
So, what was the point of all that? Even in one of the most bloated police budgets in the world, reducing that budget is very
hard without either cutting wages, cutting benefits, or layoffs - all of which are very hard without going through powerful police unions, and some of them you should question if you want to do those at all. The NYPD's fancy, militarized equipment barely accounts for much of its budget. You can cut into those if you want, but it wont' give you a hugely reduced police presence. As a real policy applied to a real budget, it's almost impossible
to see how you could actually
do any sort of 'defunding' in NYC. I am open to suggestions though, from anyone whose eyes are sharper than mine. But the obstacle of the union is a huge one, and then you have to do the calculus of whether you should
cut police jobs, or really slash police benefits.
Is there evidence that having less
police might actually be better? Sort of. The best evidence for that - especially in New York - is the time that the NYPD cut down on 'proactive' policing, aka Broken Windows policing. Crime seemed to go down.
This creates the intuition for a lot of people that 'less police = less crime', especially if you're already in an ACAB mindset anyway. The idea shouldn't be dismissed out of hand, basically, but the evidence is far from decisive, and much more 'Hmm, that's interesting'.
But ultimately? A non starter, because you still need to get past the police union. Portland Police
Portland has a much easier time - it's able to make bigger changes without nearly as much police union negotiation. Portland voted to defund their police department by 15 million
in June, significantly less than the demands for a 50 million dollar cut. Why wasn't the 50 million dollar cut made?
Hardesty said on Wednesday that the $50 million cut mentioned last week was not based on any rational analysis, and if it had been, she'd have investigated and considered it.
Yeah, not surprising. But regardless, what was actually cut in the police budget? How'd they find the room to make the changes?
A part of the cuts came from disbanding the Gun Violence Reduction Team, which was formerly the Gang Enforcement Team. One of the Portland city commissioners actually specifically targeted this and attempted to have them disbanded the year earlier, out of concerns specifically about that division being, well, racist. It's worth noting that since they were disbanded in July, gun crime went up in Portland over that month - but
, it also seemed to go up nationwide. Drawing a cut and dry conclusion from it isn't so easy. What else?
In addition to dissolving the GVRT, Hardesty's amendments included cutting eight new positions from the city’s Special Emergency Response Team, cutting funding for school resource officers and transit police, and giving nearly $5 million to Portland Street Response, which would deal with homeless people before police get involved.
For the record, absolutely no criticism for the Portland Street Response thing, it should absolutely be done. So, we have an actual example of a city defunding an amount from the police, and reinvesting it in non-police alternatives. In order to do that, it does
mean cutting police jobs, and looking into the weeds of the budget to see where you can afford to scale back.
So, here's the question we should be interested in next - did it fix the Portland police?
Remember, this was in June. What happened in Portland later?
There really can't be any doubt that whatever bullshit was sent over by Trump in the form of those unmarked federal police played a big role in stirring this up, but into August and September, there was just as much tear gassing, and online stories and accounts of police brutality as ever. It's much easier, of course, to find examples of the DHS federal police guys being evil here, but given that the mayor had to step in afterwards to add "Oh and cut back on the tear gas"... I don't know that defunding really ended up doing anything here. Nor do I think that the additional 18 million to defund that was proposed in October after all this would've done anything.
That's worth looking into quickly, just to see where the money would've come from.
On that list, she suggested eliminating 42 positions vacated by officers who retired in August. She estimated that would save around $7 million.
She also wants PPB to eliminate a combined $1.2 million in funding for the Special Emergency Response Team, or SERT, and the Rapid Response Team.
The latter is a key component in the Bureau's response to protests which have continued almost nightly for months.
To be clear, those are suggestions, not even originally what was specifically budgeted in the cut. The cut was asked for first, and then money was searched for to justify the cut. I definitely think that's absolutely backwards, and it doesn't seem to have done anything to improve relationship between the police and the community, the police and the council, community perception of police effectiveness or satisfaction with the police, it's hard to see if it's done anything regarding to crime prevention when there's a fair few confounding variables in the mix, etc... this second round of cuts didn't pass at the time of the vote, but I have to admit, I'm struggling to see the utility of it.
(Addendum: Ted Wheeler won re-election as mayor of Portland, and his opponent, who supported the 18 million budget cut... well, lost. Chloe Eudaly also lost, and she was a commissioner who was supporting the 50 million figure.) Minneapolis
We don't need to spend too much time on this one. Minneapolis wanted to abolish the police, literally.
Instead, they faced public opposition, most vocally from North Minneapolis, a largely black neighbourhood, which saw a dramatic rise in gun crime and robberies after Floyd's death. Residents have become so alarmed they are suing the city.
"We have historically had victims of violence by police," said Cathy Spann, a community organiser, at a recent neighbourhood gathering. "But we are under siege right now with gunfire every single night. The council has to bring in extra force to stop this from happening!"
Anything else I could add to that would be redundant. Read the article anyway though. Basically,
Defunding the police almost always means cutting police positions, or police benefits including overtime, pension, etc, or, as we saw in New York, one instance of cutting police training.
Looking at how different the situations are in New York and Portland, it's extremely clear that what would be possible with a budget in one city or one part of the country isn't really possible in another, not just because of political reasons, but also legal ones, and the power of police unions varying across the country. When done, it doesn't seem to make a seriously significant difference in police behaviour as far as I can tell. If anyone has any better examples where it has
improved police/community relations, or changed police behaviour, please, let me know, because I didn't find them.
At the same time, it's hard to deny some police budgets are super fucking bloated and could use a bit of cutting at the fat, but this isn't always plausible, and you can see how hard even Portland had to work to be able to make reductions in their police budget. How much harder would it be with a far more complicated city - and complicate department - in New York? But then again, the major block in the road in New York really does seem to be the Police Union.
And in reality, to be honest, I'd be shocked to hear that this is what nearly anyone means by "defund the police" - given that there are still plenty of people today who still avocate for it like nobody's attempted to do anything about it, I think it's pretty safe to say that all of these examples so far have probably satisfied nobody who supports these ideas, with the potential exception of the Minneapolis outright police abolition plan? None of this reads as actual 'defunding', definitely not in a meaningful, substantial sense, so I think something that seems like a satisfying, lasting, proper 'defunding' is almost entirely off the table.
I pretty clearly don't think 'defunding' works as an ends to itself, or even that it will usually meaningfully change the police budgets overall in a lot of cases, or even end up meaningfully funding 'police alternatives'. I'm entirely in support of reducing police duties for non-violent calls where possible, and there's good examples of cities who've successfully added supplementary services that might hopefully reduce police demand (and would, logically, end up in a potential opportunity to change the police budget - but I suspect that would just mean 'not allocating as much budget growth year on year' to police, rather than actual budget cuts). So what should
be done instead? What would actually
impact police behaviour, meaningfully, more than technical budget shifts? 1) Abolish Police Unions
Seriously. If you want to put "abolish" and "police" together in any sentence, talk about abolishing police unions. I've already explained just one way they're standing in the way in New York, although on pretty admittedly normal union grounds, but the abuses
of police unions
are well documented
, and in particular, how they protect bad cops, how they prevent bad cops from being fired, how they help to - as independent bodies - reinforce their own ideas of police warrior culture, blue walls of silence, etc - they're a vector for toxic police culture and mentality, they're an obstacle to any actual budget balancing if any defund advocates want to seriously see that, they just need to fucking go, seriously
. And it's worth noting - no large scale 'defunding' of police would be possible without
it. Everyone who wants serious, radical reform of the police on a large scale should either want to abolish police unions, or really seriously consider it. 2) End Qualified Immunity
Yeah, I know, real original. Seriously, though, even the CATO INSTITUTE wants to end Qualified Immunity now.
If you're someone who thinks about economics, you have to think about the incentives of different situations and jobs, right? Qualified Immunity removes a huge incentive against not breaking the fucking law. I remember it being a fairly prominent part of the Obama 21st Century Policing Taskforce Proposal that for Police Departments to be seen as effective, they had to also be seen as fair
, so what's fair, exactly, about Qualified Immunity? Just gonna quote an ACLU article directly here, because they were kind enough to link to a bunch of specific cases:
Qualified immunity is one reason why police are emboldened to use excessive force without fear of repercussions. They know the law protects them, even if they may be violating the Constitution — a fact driven home by Judge Reeves as he lists a handful of the Black people killed at the hands of police. Senseless shootings like Jacob Blake’s and Dijon Kizzee’s will continue occurring because police officers are essentially allowed to gun down Black people with impunity. This is the abhorrent cost our society pays for qualified immunity. 3) Non-Police alternatives
I think literally everyone agrees on these at this point, and only disagree on how they should be funded, how many there should be, which ones are worth implementing, how they should be implemented, and how much they can replace what existing roles in police forces do. But there's evidence to suggest this meaningfully reduces police misconduct
, it's universally popular, you just have to make sure you do it for the right things.
And I was about to go on, but I realized that I'd be going for like, fucking volumes, when in reality this is now very well trodden territory. Oceans of digital ink have been spilled about specific types of retraining for police, firing and rehiring programs in specific police departments across the country, data-driven ways of predicting which police are likely to act violently, etc - some
of these evidence based policies might allow for police budgets to be cut, others might require more
investment in police budgets, particularly the part about the data-driven predictions of police behaviour. And especially
anything that includes proposals about additional police training, or stricter requirements about who gets to be a police officer. Given what we know does and doesn't actually meaningfully reduce police misconduct, there's no reason to start
from "Defunding the police" so long as you agree, a priori, that a) We should have police departments, and b) Police departments are effective at reducing crime rates.
And if you disagree with both of those, you should just support police abolition anyway.