Defund the police pros and cons are fiercely debated locally and nationally, despite widespread support for police reform. Here’s where both parties stand. To have stories like this and more delivered directly to your inbox, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.
Defund the Police: How the Movement Began
Debates over defund the police pros and cons exploded nationally, seemingly overnight, during the summer of 2020. Before examining dueling opinions on this contentious proposition, let’s explore the movement’s origins.
‘Defund the Police’ is a progressive rallying cry for fundamental police reform. Supporters advocate overhauling the roles and budgets of police departments. They call for diverting public safety responsibilities — and funds — for social services to specialized community organizations. Supporters point to data indicating that black Americans are three times more likely than white Americans to be killed by police as proof of systematic racism within policing and the need for fundamental restructuring.
The hashtag #DefundThePolice began trending when the Black Lives Matter Foundation published a call-to-action denouncing police brutality and systemic racism. The organization published its demand five days after George Floyd died during an arrest by Minneappolis police, amid heated demonstrations nationwide.
In response to the outcry, some cities have slashed police budgets. However, the movement has opponents on both sides of the aisle — including leaders of both major political parties. Opponents advocate for police reforms but on a smaller scale. Now, let’s turn to defund the police pros and cons, starting with the pros.
Defund the Police Pros
First, many progressives believe fundamental reform is necessary to sever ties between policing and US slave history. Left-wing activists and historians say today’s police system originates from slave patrols in the South. Therefore, many activists believe the existing infrastructure cannot protect and serve black citizens. Critics, however, argue US policing originates with watchmen in the 1600s — based on England’s system.
Secondly, proponents say reinvesting in public services — like homelessness and mental health support — will allow police to refocus their own expertise. Some in the force agree. “We’re asking cops to do too much in this country,” Dallas Police Chief David Brown said in 2016. “Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve.”
Lastly, advocates argue community policing is most effective. Popular evidence: falling crime rates in Camden, NJ, once one of the country’s deadliest cities. In 2012, the city disbanded its police force, instead relying on the newly formed county police department with officers focused on rebuilding trust within the community. Today, the city’s murder rate is at a record low. However, some activists question the motives behind and success of Camden’s reforms.
Defund the Police Cons
Now, let’s tackle the cons of defunding the police.
Opponents maintain that reducing policing increases violent crime. One recent scientific study indicates “strong evidence” for proactive strategies like “hot spot” and “broken windows” policing. Following this assertion, one retired FBI supervisor warned that street crime is “tethered to the perceived ambivalence or permissiveness of the state.” However, the study also questions the constitutionality and effectiveness of some proactive strategies, like “stop and frisk.”
Another con highlighted by opponents: overwhelming public support for law enforcement presence. A Gallup poll published in August 2020 showed that only 14 percent of US adults wanted police to spend less time in their communities. Overall, 81 percent of Black Americans said they wanted police to spend more or the same amount of time in their areas. Nevertheless, 58 percent of all US adults and 88 percent of Black Americans said major police changes are needed in a similar Gallup poll.
Lastly, opponents say the movement puts officers at increased risk. They believe this high-risk profession requires better pay and more resources, with the current anti-police rhetoric demonizing all officers. Additionally, opponents believe calls for defunding police exacerbates the current recruitment crisis already faced by departments across the country.
What Both Sides Think
Now, where do Republicans and Democrats stand on defund the police pros and cons? Party leaders reject radical calls for defunding the police while supporting specific police reforms.
Former President Trump, a Republican, likened “defunding” to “abandoning” the police. He positioned his police reform executive order as an alternative: raising standards for police conduct. The order prohibited chokeholds except when “the use of deadly force is allowed by law.” It also mandated grant creation to help departments meet standards and create an excessive use of force database.
Additionally, Republicans largely deny allegations of systemic racism within US law enforcement.
Despite supporting police reforms as well, top Democrats oppose entirely defunding police departments. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders both dismissed the idea. However, the New York Times found overwhelming support for policing transformation among Democratic Party officials. In March 2021, President Joe Biden backed House Democrats’ George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The act, which still requires Senate approval, “would ban chokeholds and ‘qualified immunity’ for law enforcement and create national standards for policing in a bid to bolster accountability,” the Associated Press reports. Still, the AP adds that moderate Democrats believe progressives’ radical push cost the party seats in local elections.