Explaining What 'Defund the Police' Means
Wed, April 21, 2021

Explaining What 'Defund the Police' Means


The death of George Floyd has sparked mass uprisings across the US. His death in the hands of police officer Derek Chauvin has triggered worldwide protests, calling out police brutality, white supremacy, and racism. It’s historically known that black people are mostly targeted by others due to their skin color. They are often wrongly accused, attacked, and even killed. Even those who are supposed to protect them are among those who have also harmed them.

On Police Brutality

In 2014, government officials, academic researchers, and media outlets launched data-collection projects to better understand the frequency of police violence and the risk factors that contribute to it. This came after the deadly shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the death by the chokehold of Eric Garner in New York City, both black men. The findings showed that about 1,000 civilians are killed by law-enforcement officers every year in the US. Black men are also 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white men during their lifetime.

Previous studies have also shown evidence of racial bias and police killings. Data from California, for instance, revealed that police used force against black people disproportionately compared with other racial groups. The Mapping Police Violence project also showed that black people accounted for 24% of those killed by police in the country last year, although they account for just 13% of the overall population.



According to Nature, a weekly international journal publishing the finest peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology, another study reported that bias in police in administrative records has resulted in underestimating levels of racial bias in policing or masking discrimination entirely.

However, most data about police bias is limited. For instance, a national data set established by the FBI last year contains information from only about 40% of US law-enforcement officers. To address the limitations, Mark Hoekstra, an economist at Texas A&M University in College Station, compared responses to emergency calls to understand the role of race in police officers’ use of force. The findings showed that white officers who are dispatched to Black neighborhoods fired were more likely to use a gun than Black officers.

However, such use of force or any form of abuse made by police officers is often not reported. This is because carrying out disciplinary action is notoriously difficult in the US. “One thing we need to take a hard look at is those state laws and union contracts that provide either flawed or overly protective procedures that insulate officers from appropriate accountability,” Seth Stoughton, a former police officer who is a law professor at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, said.



Defund the Police: Explained

The rising cases of police brutality over the past few years have increased calls to defund the police. According to the World Economic Forum, an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world, many believe that the “defund the police” reforms may help prevent such tragedies. 

Aside from the abuse of power, several factors contributed to the growing call to defund the police. This includes the fact that the government has allocated a huge budget to the police. Reports show that spending on police in the US alone has almost tripled, from $42.3 billion in 1977 to $114.5 billion in 2017. However, ‘defund the police’ doesn’t mean abolishing the budget or the police forces altogether. Instead, it means reallocating some policing costs toward mental health, addiction treatment, and social services while reframing the role of the police themselves—particularly in Black and Indigenous communities.

Many experts argue that giving the police a huge budget will not necessarily mean they can reduce crime rates. Using 60 years of data, a study found out that education equity and the establishment of a working infrastructure are the best approaches to reduce crime. It was also shown that an increase in funding for the police did not significantly relate to a decrease in crime. According to Brookings.edu, an American research group, defunding the police may be more beneficial for reducing crime and police violence.

Researchers also argue that police officers are not as successful as people think about solving violent crime. Evidence suggests an overall bad track record with solving violent crimes among the police. Every year, approximately 38% of murders, 66% of rapes, 70% of robberies, and 47% of aggravated assaults go uncleared. Advocates also believe that police are poorly equipped to handle some issues. For instance, law enforcement spends 21% of its time responding to and transporting people with mental illnesses.

Society’s overreliance on the police is also a major issue that some cops resent. In a 2016 interview, former Dallas police chief David Brown said, “We’re just asking us to do too much. Every societal failure, we put it off for the cops to solve. That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.” Such a mentality can be dangerous. In 2015, a report revealed that one in four people killed by a police officer suffered from a serious mental illness at the time of their death.

According to advocates, such incidents could be avoided by replacing some police officers with trained social workers or specialized response teams. “Municipalities can begin by changing policies or statutes so police officers never respond to certain kinds of emergencies, including ones that involve substance abuse, domestic violence, homelessness or mental health,” Philip V. McHarris and Thenjiwe McHarris said.

Unfortunately, the call has been hugely misunderstood. For some people, this means abolishing the police entirely. Experts are worried the issue has been muddled among the general public. The confusion has allowed critics to dismiss the movement without confronting how it could help with police reform.

“The point is — and I think we have a high consensus on this who believe it — that police are out of control and we need to actually do something to make the police more accountable and to make them really be concerned with public safety for all people, not just white people,” John Powell, a civil rights expert and director of the Othering and Belonging Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, said.