Step 1: Deep Budget Analysis
This section will guide you through finding as much information as possible about your police department’s budget and functions to prepare you to make decisions. It will focus on a deep-dive budget analysis but will also guide you through finding information beyond budget numbers.
This section is designed as a guide for a comprehensive budget analysis. Consider this a guidebook for a wide range of possibilities in evaluating what you might want to change about a police budget. You may not want to or be able to answer every question. You should determine what is most helpful to your work. If you do not have staff that can conduct the necessary budget research, you may want to partner with community organizations, university professors or graduate students, or law school clinics to assist you with the research and analysis.
Looking for something specific or just want to skip to a particular topic? We’ve included a search feature that you can use to pull up any topic included in the tool.
Legislative authority, democracy, and the budget
This may seem an obvious point, but it’s one worth stating. As you embark on your analysis and efforts with the police budget, a fundamental starting place is to consider who holds power in your locality with regard to the budget.
If your local government has a Mayor-Council structure, do you have a strong or weak mayor system and how empowered is your council? Do you have a Council-Manager structure? How much authority does the legislature really have to alter the budget, either structurally, culturally, or by precedent?
Many of the localities that successfully reallocated significant portions of their police budgets in 2020 were places in which the legislature had strong authority to make changes to the proposed budget, such as Austin, Minneapolis, Portland, and Seattle. In other localities, such as in Baltimore, structural changes to empower the legislature with budget authority were necessary prerequisite steps to consider changes to the police budget. Efforts to shape and reallocate policing budgets are deeply interconnected with mayoral control and should be seen as efforts to assert democratic control over budgets.
The following is a glossary of terms you need to know to explore this guide to deep budget analysis:
Operating and Capital Budgets
Localities usually create a separate operating budget and capital budget. The operating budget—usually funded through taxes, transfers, and fees—finances all the everyday operations and services of the locality, including personnel, administration, and operations. The capital budget—usually funded through debt, grants, and revenue transfers—finances improvements to a locality’s infrastructure, facilities, and equipment, often for a longer-term time horizon (usually 5 years).
General Fund, Restricted Funds, and Dedicated Funds
The operating budget is often divided into a general fund and restricted funds. The general fund is the primary operating fund for a locality. Its resources are largely unrestricted and discretionary funds, to be allocated to agencies, programs, and services. Restricted funds or dedicated funds are monies that must be spent on a specific purpose.
The total budget comprises all revenue sources and details all expenditures in a locality’s budget, including a general fund. Please note that if your locality’s capital budget is in a separate document--and in some cases in which it is part of the operating budget document--the total operating budget will not include the capital budget.
Proposed Budget, Amended Budget, and Adopted Budget
Budgets are usually organized into a few different phases. The proposed budget is the first draft of the budget that is made public. The amended budget is a version that includes any changes made during the budget process. Lastly, the adopted budget is the final and approved budget under which the locality will operate.
Actual Budget or Expenditures
The actual budget or actual expenditure will “look back” to record real expenditures for a fiscal year, in contrast to projected budgets and expenditures featured in an adopted budget. Most budget documents will include 3-4 years of budget numbers in many charts, including actuals (usually delayed by 2 fiscal years).
Example of a comprehensive budget analysis:
- Minneapolis Reclaim the Block budget analysis (great example of identifying programs and line items to cut immediately); 2021 People’s Budget
- “Immediate Community Investments and Reimagining Plan” - Austin budget analysis from 2020 budget reallocation
- Understanding the Seattle Police Department Budget by Seattle City Council Insight