by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The progressive left is increasingly agitating for the defunding of America’s police departments, even as decades of research indicate that better-funded cops make communities better while cutting back would see crime spike.
Prominent Democrats, spurred on by protests of the killing of George Floyd, have started to call for the nation’s police forces to be “defunded.” Police departments, Democratic legislators and leaders have argued, eat up far too large a share of public spending. That money, they have said in recent days, could instead be diverted to schools, therapists, and other programs that target the “root causes” of crime.
A closer look at the data, however, challenges this story. Policing, official statistics show, accounts for less than 5 percent of state and local budgets—a share that has shrunk annually as a percentage of GDP since 2010. That low level of spending may have trickle-down effects, leading to lower salaries, more stressed-out officers, and lots of unsolved crime.
What is more, decades of research find that more spending on and hiring of police are potent anti-crime measures, with one study concluding that each dollar of spending creates $1.63 of social benefit. Spending more on police officers could also help make a more professional police force, in line with reforms now weighed by the White House and both congressional Democrats and Republicans.
In short, the weight of the evidence suggests that defunding the police could be a disaster for American society—and that giving them more funds would be a substantial boon to public welfare. …
… According to an Urban Institute analysis, state and local governments combined spent $115 billion on the police in 2017. That may sound like a lot of dough, but it’s only about 4 percent of total spending. …