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Why Police Spending Has Grown Over 200% Since 1980

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The killing of George Floyd has sparked a movement to defund the police that has gained unprecedented support across the nation. Despite a sharp decline in crime rates since the early 1990s, the United States is spending more on policing than ever, about $143 billion in 2015 alone.

As the U.S. grapples with the recent killings of Black Americans George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by local law enforcement, calls to “defund the police” have gained momentum in progressive circles across the country.

Reallocating some of the police’s funds to other community resources is seen by some as critical in the movement against police brutality. In Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, police use force against Black people seven times as often as they do against white people, city data reveals. The Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously to dismantle its police department and create a new public safety model.

Defunding the police has been a demand of the Black Lives Matter movement. On Twitter, calls to defund the police increased from near zero between May 25, the day Floyd was killed, to almost 740,000 on June 8, according to data provided to CNBC Make It by ListenFirst Media, a social analytics company.

At the same time, 64% of Americans oppose defunding police departments, according to an ABC News/Ipsos poll released Friday, June 12.

Even the specifics around how and what it means to defund the police has itself been a topic of discussion and debate. Some activists want to see police departments completely dismantled. Others ask that some of police departments’ ever-increasing budgets be diverted to other under-funded social services, like education, mental health services and housing. Everyone calling for defunding the police, though, is advocating for a reimagining of what policing and public safety could be.

Over the past few weeks, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti pledged to reduce the Los Angeles Police Department’s almost $2 billion budget by as much as $150 million and redirect the money to health and education programs. In Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh announced $12 million from the police budget would be reallocated to social services in the upcoming fiscal year. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has vowed to cut the New York Police Department’s $6 billion budget in some capacity.

Activists pushing to defund police departments are advocating for the money to be invested in other types of programs in marginalized communities, like alternative emergency response services. Rather than dial 911 and have a police officer respond to an overdose, for example, a medical professional would respond.

Those in favor of reform say this could prevent the use of unnecessary force and violence, and potentially death, from police first responders who are not necessarily trained to handle social issues including domestic violence, substance abuse, homelessness or a mental health crisis effectively. Instead, community workers and others trained in de-escalation techniques would respond.

“So much of policing right now is generated and directed toward quality-of-life issues, homelessness, drug addiction, domestic violence,” Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza told NBC’s “Meet the Press” last week. “What we do need is increased funding for housing, we need increased funding for education, we need increased funding for quality of life of communities who are over-policed and over-surveilled.”

Earlier this month, a letter signed by hundreds of current and former de Blasio staffers demanded New York City’s mayor reduce the portion of the FY2021 budget going to the NYPD by at least $1 billion, and that the funds be reallocated to “essential social services, including housing support and rental relief, food assistance and health care.” In a letter to staffers, de Blasio promised to make the city “fairer and more just for communities of color.”

CORRECTION: At 1:13 and 8:15 we misidentify the research organization where Rashawn Ray is a Governance Studies Fellow. It is The Brookings Institution, not the The Brookings Institute.

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Why Police Spending Has Grown Over 200% Since 1980

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