What Does It Really Mean To Defund the Police?

Since George Floyd's death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, protesters across the country have been calling for their respective cities to defund their police departments. Police have disproportionately used force on people of color since the creation of these departments centuries ago (in the south, police forces were originally created to preserve the slavery system), and Floyd’s death has brought this topic to the forefront of national conversation.

On Sunday June 7, Minneapolis City Council Members claimed they were going to begin the process of dismantling their police department, while other cities–like New York and Los Angeles–have moved towards defunding their law enforcement agencies. These two words are not interchangeable, despite many a person on Facebook believing them to be, so what exactly is happening? 

What does it mean when people advocate to “defund the police”? 

In many low-income communities, especially those made up mostly of people of color, a large chunk of the budget goes towards policing. And though many departments nationally increased training and use of body cameras, officers still don't follow these regulations. Defunding the police strips departments of some of their funding, and may strip them of some of their responsibilities, as well. This doesn't mean that police departments will receive zero funding or will no longer exist, but that funds will go towards bettering the community. This may lead to smaller police forces, as budgets are reallocated and certain tasks are delegated to other departments, including the fire department and medical and mental health professionals.  

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Where would the funds go instead?

This depends on the city, since the decision comes down to the discretion of individual city councils and mayors. However, most cities who are considering dismantling or defunding their police department have said that the money will go into education, mental health resources, affordable housing and other social services to curtail socioeconomic disparities. 

What is the difference between dismantling and defunding the police department?

Dismantling the police means to remove the current structure of the police department, whereas defunding the police means to decrease the number of funds and responsibilities of the police in many areas.

If a city dismantles or defunds its police department, what would replace the police?

In many cities, people are driven directly to the hospital more frequently than having an ambulance called due to a funding disparity. A defunded police would reallocate these responsibilities to the departments that are supposed to do them–in this case, an EMT/medic-staffed fire department or an ambulance company. 

For a dismantled police force, the idea would be to shift to a social services-based approach, moving a lot of responsibilities to either the fire department, social services and health care professionals, instead of police officers with guns. However, these details have not been ironed out yet.

In Camden, NJ, which dissolved its police force in 2012 due to corruption and absorbed it to its county sheriff’s department, the approach of the department shifted towards training its officers with de-escalation, rather than using restraints or brute force. Minneapolis currently has no official plans for dismantling its police force, but is expected to announce this in the coming weeks.