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Police budgets grew in 2021, so did policing get better?

by Mike Creef, Staff Writer
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Ever since the nationwide protests in the summer of 2020, there has been a steady call by some to “defund the police”. The phrase was all over the news, at protests, even used by politicians in favor of and those against the term. President Joe Biden even shared his opinion during his 2020 campaign saying “no, I don’t support defunding the police. I support conditioning federal aid to police.”

After a short period of some police budgets seeing money temporarily reallocated to different programs, on average, police budgets were expanded in 2021, some to record highs.

Two of the nation’s largest police forces both saw increases in their 2021 budget. New York City’s Police Department saw an increase of $200 million and Los Angeles’ Police Department’s budget rose 3%.

With many police departments operating with their largest budgets ever, you would think crime and police misconduct would be at record lows. Below is a brief recap of policing in the U.S. in 2021 and some important statistics.

Police Killings

Last year was the second deadliest year by police across the U.S. in recent history.

Police killed 1,134 people in 2021, the highest number since 2018’s mark of 1,144 people. That averages to over three people per day killed by police. 

Despite making up roughly 30% of the population, Black and Brown people have accounted for nearly 50% of those killed by police year after year.

Crime Rate

Overall crime has been going down for the last two decades. Some of the reduction in crime over the last year and a half has been due to the pandemic, however according to the FBI new data shows overall crime fell about 4% to 5% last year.

Police departments would like you to think that higher budgets equate to lower major crime rates, but in many states across the country, 2021 saw record-high homicide rates.

Police Accountability

In all of the 1,134 people killed by police in 2021, officers were charged with a crime in only 11 cases. The conviction of former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin made national news after he was sentenced to 22.5 years for the 2020 killing of George Floyd. 

Many viewed Chauvin’s conviction as the beginning of systemic change in holding officers accountable for their actions. According to CNN, Chauvin is only the eighth officer to be convicted of murder for killing someone while on the job since 2005. 

A federal bill called the George Floyd Justice in Policing Bill was introduced to bring transformative change to how police officers operate. But it was effectively killed by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) over his support of qualified immunity

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Bill even had the support of two of the biggest organizations representing police in America, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Fraternal Order of Police.

Looking Forward

The amount of money being poured into police departments per year is astounding. Estimated federal, state, and local spending on law enforcement/corrections in 2021 was $277 billion. That breaks down to $759 million per day spent across the country.

Instead of pouring all of that money into reactionary organizations like police departments, studies have shown when funds are instead invested proactively in youth programs and community services that communities end up thriving. 

Overall, it doesn’t seem that the larger police budgets lead to better policing. Homicide rates have gone up in many cities and police are still killing a record number of people. It’s long been time to rethink how we as a society do policing and shift our focus and funds into proactive community improvement programs that have a positive impact on society

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