HOUSTON — While the “Defund the Police” campaign is declared dead on many fronts, it’s worth noting that a significant majority of Democrats were never interested in the idea. The measures proposed by the movement have shown promise in cities where they have been implemented, but despite the numbers, many argue it was the slogan that ultimately killed the movement—particularly, in the wake of rising violent crime across the country.
Republicans and Democrats alike have cited a recent report from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program indicating that, in 2020, the number of aggravated assault offenses rose 12.1 percent and the volume of murders and non-negligent manslaughter offenses increased 29.4 percent. Most other crimes saw decreases.
While politicians and media pundits continue to cite these numbers, however, the FBI cautions against using them.
“Each year when ‘Crime in the United States’ is published, some entities use the figures to compile rankings of cities and counties,” the FBI explained in its report. “These rough rankings provide no insight into the numerous variables that mold crime in a particular town, city, county, state, tribal area, or region.”
“Consequently,” the FBI’s warning continues, “they lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents. Valid assessments are possible only with careful study and analysis of the range of unique conditions affecting each local law enforcement jurisdiction.”
The FBI’s UCR data is based on reported incidents “by law enforcement agencies voluntarily participating” in the program, making it problematic. Using the dataset as various media outlets do to fuel the “defund the police” narrative is fairly disingenuous. The data gives a generalized and incomplete understanding of crime in the U.S.
While using certain crime statistics as a rationale to “re-fund the police” is dishonest, so is the notion that Democrats are taking anything away from law enforcement. Under President Biden, police have received billions in funding with little to no accountability or transparency.
Biden Bucks for Cops
In a press conference held on June 23, 2021, alongside Attorney General Merrick Garland, Biden urged state and local governments to use some of the $350 billion in the American Rescue Plan (ARP) to fight rising crime rates and put more police officers on the street.
“We’re now providing more guidance on how (state and local governments) can use the $350 billion nationally that the American Rescue Plan has available to help reduce crime and address the root causes,” Biden said. “For example, cities experiencing an increase in gun violence were able to use the American Rescue Plan dollars to hire police officers needed for community policing and to pay their overtime.”
“(The American Rescue Plan) means more police officers, more nurses, more counselors, more social workers, more community violence interrupters to help resolve issues before they escalate into crimes,” Biden said.
Spending more money on policing and upholding age-old failed policies has been questioned by many. As the nation experiences a nursing shortage and some of its school districts struggle with budget shortfalls, police departments have seen an explosion in funding. Examples of police overfunding are everywhere, with a recent report highlighting police donating surplus tactical equipment to help Ukraine fight against a Russian invasion as only the latest.
According to a statement by the White House, President Biden continues to “urge Congress to act on his $300 million budget request to more than double the size of the Department of Justice’s COPS community policing grant program” in an effort to complement the federal funding police received in the ARP.
The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) was created as part of the Violent Crime and Control Act of 1994. According to its mission statement, the idea of the program is to “advance the practice of community policing by the nation’s state, local, territorial, and tribal law enforcement agencies through information, technical assistance, training and grant resources.”
Other Police Programs
The other non-police programs mentioned by President Biden being implemented are the result of conversations started by the Black community. Many had never been presented as viable options for crime prevention. Crisis and de-escalation teams that focus on mental health are the most prominent along with misdemeanor bail reform.
Harris County, Texas, where the city of Houston is located, is also home to the largest mental health facility in the state—the Harris County Jail. The fourth-largest city in the United States has taken its share of the ARP funds and allocated some to be used to help those in mental health crisis and domestic violence victims.
The noticeably small allocations, however, have come under some scrutiny. The $44 million set aside for those programs breaks donw as follows: $10 million for violence reduction and crime prevention (adding an additional $5.7 million in overtime for Houston Police) and $34 million for crisis intervention, response, and recovery (mostly expanding existing services).
The Houston Police Department’s budget for 2022 is $984 million—an increase of $30 million over the previous year.
Not all calls require law enforcement. Many incidents are non-violent and can be handled effectively by teams of trained medical and behavioral health specialists who assist individuals and connect them to appropriate resources. Set to launch later this month. cc: @hcphtx https://t.co/maNQw2F8pF
— Ed Gonzalez (@SheriffEd_HCSO) March 11, 2022
As cities across the country take incremental steps to prevent domestic violence, violent crime, and the escalation of mental health calls, like Houston they face a number of budgetary issues. And due to political fallout, for Democrats and Republicans alike, bloated police budgets will take precendence over proven non-police programs.
While the ARP made some alternative policing programs possible, many argue they don’t go far enough. One thing is clear: all indicators about the future of policing under President Biden and Democrats in Congress say we should expect more of the same. Meanwhile, the alternative non-police programs now being implemented are already at risk financially. Once federal COVID relief funds run dry, police will need to find ways to maintain their current and increasing funding levels—and as noted throughout modern history, social programs are the first to go amid budget shortfalls.
In other words, the future of policing as we know it is safe.
Arturo Domínquez is a first-generation Cuban American father of three young men, an anti-racist, journalist, and publisher of The Antagonist Magazine. If you’d like to learn more about the issues covered here, follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. You can also support his work here and here.