Why Cutting Police Budgets is Harder Than It Sounds

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Cities responding to calls to defund the police are quickly learning that police budgets, amassed over generations with solid public support, are proving difficult to whittle down, The Wall Street Journal reports. Elected officials in New York, Seattle, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and elsewhere have already approved cuts in police budgets, but many of these measures are cosmetic, temporary or simply too small to make a major dent.

One countervailing force comes from growing concern about a spike in violent crime in many cities. As one Chicago alderman put it, “We just had the most violent month in 28 years. Is now really the time to talk about defunding, whatever that is?” Public support for police, though it is eroding, also accounts for the rise in local spending on policing of 176 percent from 1977 to 2017, according to an Urban Institute analysis. Then there are union contracts and pension obligations. “In Atlanta when I look at our police budget, I see capital costs, I see salaries, I see pension costs, I see workers’ compensation,” said Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Democrat. “All of this stuff is really hard to dislodge,” said Michael Leo Owens, an associate professor of political science at Emory University in Atlanta. “If you look at the reforms [cities] are mentioning, they’re not talking about serious money.” Reducing police funding “is going to be a process over time,” said Andrea Ritchie, a researcher at the Barnard Center for Research on Women who seeks deep cuts in police spending, saying the money could be better spent addressing the root causes of violence.

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