The issue of funding the police is a hot topic, which is discussed in the context of not only economic but also social problems. The situation is exacerbated by numerous scandals surrounding the activities of law enforcement agencies, and the recent events related to the killings of Black Americans have become a critical trigger in shaping the need to stop funding the police. This issue involves three significant aspects to take into account – public safety, the social role of the police, and the effectiveness of social justice. To assess these determinants of relevant viewpoints, this is critical to consider positions in favor of both defunding and continuing to fund law enforcement. The existing shortcomings in the work of the police are often presented as justifications for cutting funding and taking measures to reassign the boards responsible for order and security. Nevertheless, such a position is ambiguous and has potential downsides. Despite social concerns and precedents related to police abuse of power, the withdrawal of funding is not an adequate solution, and effective reforms are seen as more productive measures to address the existing problems.
One of the main complaints against law enforcement agencies is that police officers are often biased towards the population, which is particularly often expressed in racism towards individual citizens. In this regard, Jefferson-Bullock and Exum (2020) argue that defunding can be a potentially powerful way to eliminate the abuse of office precedents and redirect public funds to more important social needs. The threat that individual citizens feel cannot exist in a democratic society with clear normative rules and regulations that define the right to freedom. One of the ways to maintain public safety, according to the researchers, is to shift responsibility to local communities, which will eliminate unnecessary violence and discrimination based on ethnicity or other factors (Jefferson-Bullock & Exum, 2020). This position is directly related to the growing concerns about the inequality promoted by the police toward social minorities.
At the same time, potential defunding may adversely affect public safety for several reasons. Firstly, as Rushin and Michalski (2020) state, police officers are professionally trained, and the lack of sufficient funding can lead to incompetent enforcement of law enforcement duties. Secondly, low financing is a direct prerequisite for cuts in the salaries of police officers, which will cause a decrease in their professional competencies (Rushin & Michalski, 2020). Finally, ethical problems may arise due to defunding, and the police will have to look for funds to maintain normal work in various social areas, which will affect the budget balance negatively. In other words, cases of misuse of civil assets can become the norm, which is unacceptable from an ethical or legislative perspective. As a result, even with the existing concerns, defunding does not directly correlate with improved public safety.
Social Role of the Police
As an aspect that is often seen as an incentive to defund the police, one should take into account the social role that law enforcement agencies have. In the traditional sense, the police should ensure public order and be a pillar of society so that people can count on comprehensive support and protection. In reality, according to Jacobs et al. (2021), the system of interaction between the police and the population is based on coercion, and punishment is the only form of ensuring proper control. In particular, social minorities feel this, as they become the targets of the police’s carceral activities more often than others (Jacobs et al., 2021). Periodic protests related to the dissatisfaction of individual segments of the population with oppression and discrimination by the police are largely due to the bias prescribed to officers who demonstrate unjustified rigidity. Therefore, defunding is viewed as an objective mechanism designed to eliminate bias and build a society in which the population is not afraid of law enforcement officers but trusts them.
Despite some people’s complaints about carceral activities, the situation is not unambiguous. According to the study by Lum et al. (2021), a small percentage of all police calls result in the arrest of the accused. In addition, when speaking of a social function, law enforcement agencies are more likely to be preventive than punishing boards. Without appropriate restraints, anarchist sentiments can manifest themselves in society, which, in turn, will lead to the illegitimate seizure of power or other negative outcomes caused by a lack of proper control. In the case of defunding, crime can develop under the influence of people’s unwillingness to obey the existing order and follow the law. As Lum et al. (2021) note, at the moment, there are no unambiguous positions regarding which body can cope with the counteraction to public disorder. The lack of funding is a direct consequence of the decline in activity on the part of law enforcement agencies. As a result, society may face the threat of uncontrolled crime, which is a serious reason to pay attention to reforming rather than defunding.
The aspect of social justice, which is closely associated with the activities of the police, is an essential factor in assessing the issue of defunding. Jackson et al. (2020) cite a study showing that a significant portion of the American population (about 40%) is in favor of shifting funding to other agencies (para. 14). In addition, according to the survey, this position does not correlate with ethnicity, although African Americans experience police illegitimacy more often than white Americans (Jackson et al., 2020). Such an aspect as racial profiling is evidence of bias towards ethnic minorities and confirms the existing discrimination against individual segments of the population. Kahn (2020) also draws attention to body cameras that police officers are equipped with and notes that this paraphernalia is often not a deterrent to aggression shown towards suspects. As a result, defunding is seen as a method of combating social injustice by law enforcement agencies.
At the same time, as an argument against defunding, people should consider the potential negative outcomes of shifting responsibility from the police to other agencies. As Fleetwood and Lea (2022) state, despite reported cases of violence by law enforcement agencies, there are no other bodies that can provide social justice at the proper level. As a better solution, the authors offer the authorities revise police autonomy and pay more attention to law violations by officers but not resort to defunding (Fleetwood & Lea, 2022). Otherwise, the risks of increased crime rates are inevitable, which is a logical consequence of police inaction.
Counterargument and Refutation
In light of the arguments presented, one might suggest that defunding is a reasonable step toward transforming police behavior and ensuring citizens’ safety. Cases of groundless violence and humiliation demonstrated by law enforcement officers are significant precedents to take into account to restructure the funding system. However, when talking about such a step, one should not forget the potential benefits of reforms that can help correct the current situation without the need for resorting to drastic measures. The findings from credible sources prove that with closer attention to the actions of law enforcement agencies, the authorities can improve their relations with the population and eliminate bias (Fleetwood & Lea, 2022; Lum et al., 2021). Kahn (2020) also notes that to strengthen the work of the police, changing the recruiting system can be a potentially effective practice. Such an approach does not involve a decrease in funding but is based on attracting more competent and responsible officers who can perform their immediate duties without prejudice against the population. Thus, defunding cannot be considered the only possible and effective way to improve the work of the police.
Based on the comparison of two opposing positions, one can note that defunding the police is not a reasonable move to address such aspects as public safety, the social role of law enforcement, and social justice. An effective reform that draws the attention of the authorities to the issue is a more important and safe solution. Cutting funding will directly lead to a decrease in police activities and, consequently, an increase in the level of crime. Given that, today, there are no boards capable of productively performing the functions of law enforcement agencies, the ideas of the futility of defunding and the importance of reform are confirmed.
Fleetwood, J., & Lea, J. (2022). Defunding the police in the UK: Critical questions and practical suggestions. The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice, 61(2), 167-184.
Jackson, J., McKay, T., Cheliotis, L., Fine, A., Trinkner, R., & Bradford, B. (2020). Racist policing is making Black and White Americans question police authority. USAPP – American Politics and Policy Blog.
Jacobs, L. A., Kim, M. E., Whitfield, D. L., Gartner, R. E., Panichelli, M., Kattari, S. K., Downey, M. M., McQueen, S. S., & Mountz, S. E. (2021). Defund the police: Moving towards an anti-carceral social work. Journal of Progressive Human Services, 32(1), 37-62.
Jefferson-Bullock, J., & Exum, J. J. (2020). That is enough punishment: Situating defunding the police within antiracist sentencing reform. Fordham Urban Law Journal, 48(3), 625-680.
Lum, C., Koper, C. S., & Wu, X. (2021). Can we really defund the police? A nine-agency study of police response to calls for service. Police Quarterly, 1-26.
Rushin, S., & Michalski, R. (2020). Police funding. Florida Law Review, 72, 277-330.