Calls to “defund the police” are still alive on social media and in protests amid civil unrest across the U.S., but spikes in violent crime have some officials questioning the feasibility of the movement.
The phrase gained momentum after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor involving police use of lethal force as well as the officer-involved shooting of Jacob Blake, which sparked outrage across the country and calls to defund police departments.
“Maybe the ambitions of the ‘defund the police movement’ have scaled back somewhat,” Paul Cassell, a law professor at the University of Utah, told Fox News. “When the ideas were first being announced, they were being announced in very grandiose terms, and the pushback has led to a very rapid reassessment and realignment of what the goals really were to much more modest proportions.”
A number of activist and civil rights organizations ranging from the ACLU to Black Lives Matter to March for Our Lives has called on officials to “divest” or “defund” the police, arguing that reallocating federal funding from police departments toward other local services could make communities safer, especially for minorities.
Celebrities including Lizzo, John Legend, Natalie Portman and Jane Fonda signed an open letter calling to defund police.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced in June that he would cut $150 million from the city’s police budget and redistribute some of the funds to “black communities and communities of color,” according to the LA Times.
The New York City Council in July voted to slash $1 billion from the city’s police funding and transfer that money to youth and community development programs.
“Defunding police means defunding police,” Democratic New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said in a press release at the time. “It does not mean budget tricks or funny math. It does not mean moving school police officers from the NYPD budget to the Department of Education’s budget so the exact same police remain in schools.”
Others have called for the complete abolishment of police departments, including Minneapolis City Council members, who announced a veto-proof plan in June to completely dismantle the city’s police department and spoke to supporters at a June rally in Powderhorn Park.
But recent spikes in violent crime in major U.S. cities have some officials questioning the effectiveness of the idea.
Minneapolis City Council member Jamal Osman said during a Sept. 16 meeting that residents were expressing concerns about crime upticks and asking where the police were.
“Residents are asking, ‘Where are the police?’” Osman said, adding that constituents’ calls to the department had gone unanswered. “That is the only public safety option they have at the moment. MPD. They rely on MPD. And they are saying they are nowhere to be seen.”
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said about 100 officers have left the department of taken a leave of absence so far in 2020.
Mayor Jacob Frey on Sept. 22 released his 2021 budget proposal, which does not completely abolish or defund police but does include a $14 million cut to the department’s funding.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo also acknowledged a rise in crime in New York City in a Sept. 24 press conference, and New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea told FOX Business’ Maria Bartiromo on Sept. 25 that the city’s cuts to the police budget have “certainly had a significant impact” on crime.
“In order for reform to be feasible, people do need to feel a degree of safety and order, so I do think the rising level of homicide does complicate the movement for reforming police,” Omar Wasow, an assistant professor of politics at Princeton University, told Fox News.
He added: “What the activists push for and what the mainstream politician advances are often quite different,” noting that 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has said he does not support defunding police.
Wasow also noted that the rise in homicides and gun violence has occurred “without any defunding of police” in reference to 2021 budget cuts that have not been implemented yet. “These are policy debates that are happening now, but…at current levels of funding, we’re seeing a rise in homicides.”
Cassell said while it’s too early to tell whether there is any kind of correlation between the “defund the police” movement and spikes in violent crime, there appears to be a correlation between police reassignments amid nationwide protests and violent crime.
In his Sept. 10 research paper titled “Explaining the Recent Homicide Spikes in U.S. Cities: The ‘Minneapolis Effect’ and the Decline in Proactive Policing,” Cassell notes that many police were reassigned from proactive policing duties to help control protests in cities across the country amid unrest this summer that has continued into the fall.
Those reassignments may inspire greater confidence among criminals to carry firearms and engage in harmful activity when the police presence in an area is lighter than normal.
Cassell said crime spikes could be “projecting what would happen into the fall or next year if ‘defunding the police’ is taken to its logical conclusion.”
“Defunding the police means, at some level, cutting back on law enforcement activities,” he said. “… So I think we can project, just as the police have had to pull back this summer due to the protests, if they have to pull back due to defunding, we can expect high levels are particularly homicides or shootings to persist and maybe even increase further.”
He added that he doesn’t think “anyone wants to defund the police.”
“I do think that, as a country, you can have a robust and serious discussion about whether certain activities could be shifted from the police department to other social service agencies…and I think that is happening.”
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