Supporters of the “defund the police” movement say versions of the concept have already been working successfully in several cities—and maintain their ideas aren’t as “radical” as critics claim.
Speaking on the third and final day of the 2020 John Jay Innovations Conference Thursday, Lex Steppling of Dignity and Power Now said his group was among those which successfully persuaded the LosAngeles County Board of Supervisors to reinvest some $3.5 billion allocated for jail expansion to develop alternatives to incarceration.
The idea of diverting parts of the public safety budget to programs aimed at building healthier communities—which he called the “divest-invest” model—is far from radical, he argued.
“It is essentially taking funds from policing and investing them in places that will benefit everybody,” he said.
“Public health models have always worked.”
Similarly, Betsy Pearl of the Center for American Progress recalled that a grassroots campaign in Milwaukee “successfully diverted $900,000 from the policing budget to fund community safety priorities” last year.
In another example, in North Carolina, Durham Beyond Policing – For Community-Led Safety and Wellness challenged the police department’s expansion and actually won, she said.
“Instead of hiring new officers, the city assembled a task force devoted to community-based safety solutions.”
David Muhammad, national director of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform ( NICJR) presented a platform called Reduce, Improve and Reinvest that he argued was the starting point to defunding the police.
It begins with reducing the footprint of law enforcement, he said.
“If we spent the type of money on these neighborhood community-based interventions that we do on police, we could see incredible outcomes,” said Muhammad.
It is important to break down the budgets and identify where the money will go, Steppling added.
By doing so, it is difficult to oppose a community-based proposals, he said.
“We need to reduce the size of policing, improve what remains, and reinvest savings into community services.”
Tayler Green is a TCR news reporting intern