Pro and Con: Defunding the Police

This article was published on June 30, 2020, at Britannica’s ProCon.org, a nonpartisan issue-information source. Go to ProCon.org to learn more.

Amid the Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25, 2020, calls to “defund the police” began to populate protest signs and social media posts. 

While there are multiple interpretations of “defund the police,” the basic definition is to move funding away from police departments and into community resources such as mental health experts, housing, and social workers. In the larger scope of the civil rights movement, some advocates would reallocate some police funding but keep police departments, others would combine defunding with other police reforms such as body cameras and bias training, and others see defunding as a small step toward ultimately abolishing police departments and the prison system entirely. 

According to the most recent data available, police departments received about $114.5 billion nationwide in 2017 from state and local governments, up from $42.3 billion in 1977. Police budgets have made up around 4% of total state and local budgets since 1977. About 97% of police budgets go toward operational costs such as salaries and benefits. However, individual cities or counties may allocate more funds to police departments. The 2017 Los Angeles city budget, for example, provided 23% of the budget to police, while 9% of Los Angeles county’s budget went to policing. 

64% of Americans oppose the abstract idea of defunding the police, while 34% support the movement. 60% are against reallocating police budget funds to other public health and social programs, while 39% are in favor. 

Pro

  • Police departments are historically oppressive and violent. Defunding them could reduce violence against people of color and overall crime.
  • Police officer and police department reforms have not worked.
  • Police are not trained and were not intended to do many of the jobs they perform. Defunding the police allows experts to step in.

Con

  • When police departments’ budgets are cut, violence and civilian injuries increase, and departments turn to “taxation by citation” to raise money.
  • The level of police misconduct is overstated, more (not fewer) police are being called for in crime-ridden areas, and reforms are both possible and supported by a majority of Americans. 
  • Police departments should not be disbanded, but held to standardized national regulations, which should comply with international human rights laws.

To access extended pro and con arguments, sources, discussion questions, and ways to take action on the issue of defunding the police, go to ProCon.org.

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