Strategies and methods for organizing for reinvestment

There is no single pathway for ensuring the meaningful participation of residents in making decisions about how public safety resources will be allocated and what policies to prioritize. The conditions that allow for substantive action on police budgets are sometimes fleeting—such as in the wake of a police killing—and are other times the end result of a long-term organizing and budget campaign. Regardless of which methods you make use of in your organizing, building organized community power as part of your strategy is critical both for the passage of any reallocation and for the sometimes much more difficult struggle to successfully implement changes over time.

The following comprise some resources and guidance on engaging community members in developing your reinvestment strategy.

Navigating Task Forces

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.

Effectively Utilizing the Budget Process and Public Hearings

Elected officials and organizers that have found success in reallocating police budgets into other public safety investments have articulated an affirmative vision of their goals early on and consistently throughout the budget process. The programs that will receive investment and will create more safety for communities should be front and center of oversight hearings, budget hearings, town halls, and other community events. If you’re repeating yourself again and again about your vision of what constitutes investment in public safety, you are doing it right.

Charter Amendments and Structural Reforms

In some localities, it is necessary and strategic to engage in structural reforms to the budgetmaking process and authority as a way to build power for police budget reallocation. In Baltimore, for example, structural changes to empower the legislature with budget authority by amending the city charter were necessary prerequisite steps to consider changes to the police budget. In Detroit, councilmembers and residents created a Detroiters’ Bill of Rights to translate community demands into charter amendments and capitalize on this opportunity to embed equity and justice directly into the city’s constitution. This Bill of Rights proposal included budgeting principles that outlined what would be required financially to realize the aims articulated in the proposals. The proposal called on the city to use either general fund revenue or other revenue sources to realize the commitments in the Bill of Rights. In Los Angeles County, Measure J, which was passed by voter referendum in 2020, requires LA County to allocate 10% of its general fund to go toward anti-racist agencies and services, including youth services and alternatives to incarceration.

Participatory Budgeting

In effect in dozens of districts or wards, cities, and schools across the country for a range of issues, participatory budgeting can also be utilized for public safety budgeting. For resources related to participatory budgeting, we encourage you to make use of the work of the Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP), an organization dedicated to advancing participatory budgeting throughout the US and Canada. Their website includes a number of helpful resources, including an introduction to participatory budgeting, case studies and impacts, and toolkits. They also provide training and other technical assistance. You can also find a participatory budgeting policy brief co-authored by Local Progress here.