In seeking to reallocate a police budget, make sure to consider the ways the following issues may impact your efforts.
Be careful how you highlight the amount of police misconduct settlements. It is important to maintain that survivors of police violence deserve compensation and reparations. Instead, focus on how this is a cost of policing—it is the officers causing harm and the system that allows that to continue to happen that is at fault.
Watch out for budget reallocations that move money into other departments’ budgets that ultimately go back to police or perpetuate surveillance and criminalization (such as public housing that is heavily surveilled or policed by police or housing authorities, certain mental health care, punitive treatment programs, etc.). For example, in New York City, $300 million that was used for school resource officers was moved out of the police budget and into the Department of Education budget. While this did technically shrink the Police Department budget, the move did not end the practice of having police in schools. In other words, budget reallocations must be connected to cultural changes that not only reduce the use of police officers but also transform systems that replicate policing (surveillance, criminalization, etc) without the use of police officers.
Reacting to the calls from advocates and community for reallocation of police budgets, some state legislatures have passed abusive preemption laws that limit the power of localities to make decisions about their police budgets. In 2021, five laws were passed by state legislatures that interfere with the local governments' authority over their police budgets (FL HB 1, GA HB 286, MO SB 26, TX HB 1900, and TX SB 23). For example, Florida HB 1 authorizes the Governor and his cabinet to amend or modify a municipality's budget that contains a funding reduction to the local law enforcement agency. These laws are part of the growing pattern of abusive state preemption, where conservative state legislatures are withdrawing local authority to act on a wide range of issues like raising minimum wages, instituting paid leave, making public health decisions, and more.
When removing police from schools, parks, and other locations, make sure that they are not replaced by armed security and/or security practices that perpetuate criminalization. Instead, replace police in schools with restorative justice programs (see for example, the Oakland Unified SchoolDistrict’s restorative justice program), social workers, and other support systems that offer students resources and address unsafe behavior without the use of police or criminalization. In parks and other locations, use unarmed security that is trained to help create welcoming and safe spaces without targeting or criminalizing people who are homeless, people with disabilities or mental illnesses, and people of color.
Who’s in Charge
When moving certain agencies or programs out of the police department budget, such as the 911 call center or the forensics lab, be clear on which agency will manage and oversee them, if not the police department.
Do not postpone maintenance, capital spending, or contracts for one year without changing the department or otherwise ensuring that that money won’t just be put back in next year.
Many localities have created task forces or committees to identify recommendations for budgeting and reinvestment (see for example, Austin, Ithaca, Oakland, Berkeley). These decision-making bodies can be a useful and important vehicle for community engagement, but they can also be used to obfuscate and delay action. Policymakers and advocates should work to ensure these efforts are clear from the beginning about their goals and outcomes, as well as who will serve on the task forces and who will have decision-making authority. We highly recommend reading this report from a range of activists involved in local task forces, as well as PolicyLink’s reflections on the Oakland task force here.
Consent Decrees and Investigations
If your locality is or will potentially be facing a DOJ consent decree, settlement, or investigation, consider how that will impact budgetary efforts. Consent decrees place an independent monitor in charge of specific outcomes for police department policy and practice. The role of the independent monitor can have an impact on how budget decisions get made, as well as how a locality must allocate funding to address the requirements of the consent decree, settlement, or investigation.