As part of our 2018 publication of the Reform/Transform toolkit, Local Progress released a budgeting metric to help policymakers and advocates compare investments in policing with investments in the programs that address root causes of violence, like youth programming, stable housing, and jobs. This metric provided a framework for comparative analysis and demonstration of budget priorities. What it does not do, however, is provide guidance on how to go about realigning spending priorities by examining police budgets and identifying promising areas for community safety investment.

Screenshot of comparative analysis from the Reform/Transform budgeting metric. (Source: Reform/Transform)

Over the last few years, community members, activists, and elected officials have led unprecedented campaigns to scrutinize, reduce, and reallocate police budgets. Some of these campaigns have resulted in reduced police budgets. Some of those localities have reallocated that funding to public services, while others have reduced police budgets as part of austerity. A basic premise of this toolkit is that we must build and strengthen the commuity safety strutures that create real safety and do not rely on police, as we strive to reduce, reallocate, and restructure police budgets that have grown ever larger over the last several decades.

These efforts have shown that deep knowledge of a locality’s budget as well as the interrelated functions, structure, and power of a police department are necessary to make real, lasting change to how a locality fosters public safety. But where does one begin that effort? What functions do the police perform, how do they spend time on those functions, and who else could better fulfill them? How does one determine how much to reallocate from any one expenditure? Which parts of the police budget have other localities reduced?

This new tool, Investing in Real Safety: A How-To Guide For Policymakers, aims to provide that “how-to” guidance for elected officials, government staff, and advocates looking to examine in-depth how their police budgets are structured in order to make investments in thriving communities and the resources that truly create safety. This tool will walk you through ways to reduce, reallocate, and restructure the functions and expenditures of your police department.

Reducing, reallocating, and restructuring police budgets, as exemplified by Austin’s 2020 budget process. (Source: Austin City Council via Bloomberg CityLab)

This tool is designed to help you disaggregate all the functions and scope of work performed by police. This will allow you to evaluate all the possible avenues for shrinking the power, budget, and footprint of policing while you shift resources to existing programs that address the root causes of violence (such as investments in affordable housing and youth programs) and build new structures (such as non-police emergency response teams for people in emotional or mental health distress).

“The reality is that police have benefited from centuries of investments, in money—to the tune of $100 billion a year—faith, and legitimacy, while community-based prevention, intervention, and responses to harm have operated with little to no resources. They will require time, space, and room to learn as they grow, in addition to financial resources.”
#DefundthePolice: Lessons from 2020 (Interrupting Criminalization)

True public safety must be rooted in the needs and dynamics of each local community. Consistent with that principle, this tool does not provide a blueprint but is instead a menu of options for budget changes, goals, and reinvestments for you to choose from in pursuing changes that your community wants to see.

The tool begins with a guide (Step 1: Comprehensive Budget Analysis) that walks you through what information you need to gather to determine your goals. It then offers a list of options for budget reallocations (Step 2: Determine Goals and Budget Reallocations) and reinvestments (Step 3: Identify Reinvestments), rooted in examples from localities across the country. Elected officials should work through a robust process of community engagement that centers communities most harmed by police violence while also usually being shut out of decision-making about public safety--including Black communities, Indigenous communities, communities of color, disabled people, LGBTQ communities, and immigrant communities--to determine any campaign goals and funding priorities. Thus, the last section of the tool also offers resources about participatory and community engagement centered processes for policy-making.

This tool is not designed to be a recipe you must follow from Step 1 to Step 2 to Step 3. It might be most helpful for you to start with Step 3 to identify the non-police systems you want to build. You might want to skip around to find a particular piece of information. We encourage you to use this tool as is most useful.

This tool is focused on city police departments, but its general guidance—and especially the steps for analysis—can be used to analyze the budgets, functions, and power of sheriff’s offices, departments of corrections, and other law enforcement departments or agencies at the city or county level. Though the levers of power and authority differ widely between police and sheriff departments, this tool aims to at least provide those working at the county level with a framework for examining their public safety spending and considering what investments should be made to foster community safety outside of law enforcement.