As thousands of protesters across the country have gathered to demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black people killed by police, calls to defund the police have gained momentum. In the past two weeks, it has gained unprecedented support and sparked topics of police reform to Congress.
Reallocating and distributing the massive amount of funds police departments across the country receive will be a substantial method of police reform. Other methods of police reform, such as “warrior style” training, which instructs all officers to view all encounters as dangerous and to prioritize their safety, have not been proven to work. A better solution would be to reduce police funding and reallocate these funds to crucial and often neglected areas, such as education, public health, housing and youth services.
Investing in these areas would act as a better deterrent to crime by directly addressing societal problems like poverty, mental illness and homelessness. These are all issues police officers are poorly equipped to handle, yet are often tasked with. Law enforcement spends 21 percent of its time responding to and transporting people with mental illness. Police are also frequently dispatched to deal with people experiencing homelessness, causing them to be incarcerated at a highly disproportionate rate.
In these instances, police officers should be replaced with trained social workers or special response teams. The replacement of officers could help prevent the use of unnecessary force and violence from police first responders who are not trained to handle social issues, including domestic violence, substance abuse, homelessness or a mental health crisis effectively.
“So much policing right now is generated and directed toward quality-of-life issues, homelessness, drug addiction, domestic violence,” said Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza. “What we need is increased funding for housing, we need increased funding for education. We need increased funding for quality-of-life communities who are over-policed and over-surveilled.”
The amount of money the United States spends on policing is massive. The sum is $115 billion, which is more significant than every other country's military budget. In most cities, the police budget is far higher than those for education, housing and other social services. New York City’s annual police budget is a massive $6 billion, which is more than the city spends on health, homeless services, youth development and workforce development combined. Reallocating funds from the police to other social services is the first step to rethinking “the meaning of public safety entirely.”
Legislation has already been laid regarding police reform. In both chambers of the Iowa Legislature, representatives unanimously passed a police reform bill last week to ban chokeholds and address officer misconduct. Congressional Democrats have unveiled a new police reform bill, but will likely run into opposition from the GOP, who have also considered proposals for police reform.
Political leaders have commented on the recent reforms. President Donald Trump, along with some Republican and Democratic politicians, is against defunding the police.
“We won't be defunding our police,” Trump said. “We won't be dismantling our police.”
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell questioned the role of Congress in enacting police reforms, saying “There may be a role for Congress to play” and would discuss with his party, "about what, if anything, is appropriate for us to do.” A handful of elected officials have vocalized support, however. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has said she’s “actively engaged in advocacy” for a “reduction of our NYPD budget that costs us books in the hands of our children and costs us very badly need investment in public housing.”
While calls to defund the police departments and other law enforcement agencies across the country grow, police reformation and defunding departments are bound to happen. While not all at once, the murder of George Floyd has sparked a new era of changes in criminal justice and law enforcement.