A majority of police agencies across the U.S. increased budgets despite 'defund' movement

Samantha Kummerer Image
BySamantha Kummerer WTVD logo
Friday, October 14, 2022
Most police agencies in U.S. have increased budgets
Despite around 90% of the 100 agencies studied increasing their funding, 'defund the police' has reemerged as a buzzword as the midterm election gets closer.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's been more than two years since activists joined in the street to protest the murder of George Floyd.

The summer of often-violent demonstrations across the country in 2020 also spurred calls for cities to cut police budgets, an idea that's grown to be known as the "Defund Movement."

However, a national investigation by the ABC Owned Televisions Stations found those calls have not transformed into action.

An analysis of budgets for more than 100 law enforcement agencies across the country uncovered the opposite. Ninety percent of cities and counties increased spending for police between the fiscal years 2018-19 and 2021-22. None of the North Carolina cities the team analyzed reported an increase in law enforcement budgets.

Of the 10% of agencies who did decrease funding, the cuts were small with only eight agencies slashing the budget by more than 2%; a percentage many local government budget experts deem irrelevant.

"Overwhelmingly, cities and counties' police departments across the country are not being defunded in any way. In fact, many of them have increased their budgets," said Rashawn Ray, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a left-leaning independent research group.

Ray's research focuses on policing and race relations across the country. His work has led him to work with thousands of officers.

"What's unfortunate is that I think that we had a moment in time in the United States to really correct policing and do something about it in a big way. And I think once again, we swung the bat and we missed," Ray said.

The top five increases in budgets since the 2018-19 fiscal year were all in cities in California (Sacramento, Bakersfield, Riverside County and San Diego) with each reporting more than a 25% increase.

Locally, the ABC11 I-Team previously reported police departments' budgets in Fayetteville (+3%), Raleigh (+10%) and Durham (+8%) have increased between the fiscal years of 2018-19 and 2021-22.

Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte reported the largest increases in the state with just over a 10% spike in funding between FY2018-19 and FY2021-22.

Search your agency: https://abcotvdata.github.io/police-budgets/police-budgets-graphs/index.html

While the agencies' budgets have grown, so have the cities' overall budgets. The ABC11 I-Team found each of the three departments continues to receive the same percentage of the overall budget since 2020.

READ MORE: 'We have seen a change': Raleigh police come closer to community with new policy

Around 11% of Raleigh and Durham's overall budgets are for its police department. Fayetteville leaders allocated around a fourth of its budget to its police department in FY2021-22.

Ray said the idea of slashing police budgets often comes when over a third of the city's budget is dedicated to police.

"If your city or your county is spending one out of every three of your tax dollars, what are you getting for that? Do you feel safer because of that? Are your response times quicker because of that? If the answers to those questions are no, within that is the research bearing now that the funding measure doesn't necessarily correlate to these other things," he said.

Despite around 90% of the 100 agencies increasing their funding, 'defund the police' has reemerged as a buzzword as the midterm election gets closer.

Republican candidates including Bo Hines and Sandy Smith in North Carolina have posted tweets blaming widespread officer resignations, officers' deaths, and an increase in crime on Democrats who are aiming to defund the police. However, across the aisle, many Democratic candidates are renouncing the idea and need.

U.S. representative candidate Wiley Nickels, who is running against Hines, stated on his campaign website, "I disagree with those in my party who want to defund the police, and I support programs that help to build community relationships and trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve."

President Joe Biden addressed the concept during his State of the Union Address earlier this spring.

"We should all agree: the answer is not to defund the police, it's to fund the police. Fund them!" Biden said during his national address in March.

While the data shows that police departments across the country have not been stripped of funding, the problem that sparked the 'Defund Movement' remains.

"When we hear the term defund the police, really what it means is to reallocate taxpayer money from the police budget and the public safety budget to other parts of the government that need funding, oftentimes social services that have been underfunded for a very long period of time," Ray said.

READ MORE: Sampson County Sheriff using social media to plead for funding, staff

Kimberly Dodson, an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Houston-Clear Lake and a former law enforcement officer said the reallocation of these dollars to other agencies would better provide resources to address social ills police are often tasked with handling.

"We go out for 10 minutes and we fix something that's been wrong and put a Band-Aid on it something that's been wrong for 10 years and it's just an impossible task. We're asking the police to do too much," she said.

Ray said research has found there isn't a big correlation between spending and crime reduction.

"Most calls for service don't have anything to do with violent crime at all. So in that regard, people are saying, 'Okay, are there better ways by which to think about calls for service? Whether that be with mental health responses, whether that be with different sorts of traffic officers handling those particular issues," Ray said.

Another part to consider when discussing police budgets is reallocating how dollars are spent within the agency. Ray said departments do need training and do need more resources.

Fayetteville police chief Gina Hawkins told the I-Team in July that she supports the investment in more resources throughout the entire city.

"We absolutely support dealing with education, dealing with mental health, dealing with a lot of community issues; we support that. But the implication (of the "defund the police" rallying cry) was that somehow we were funded with money to take care of that. And that never happened," Hawkins said.

While her department's budget has not decreased, she said she believes 'nothing has stayed the same.' Hawkins pointed to changes in training and how they allocate their funding within the department.

Fayetteville Police Department did add funding for mental health and homelessness liaison officers.

Similarly, other local municipalities are ramping up resources to tackle mental-health-related calls.

Raleigh Police Department launched ACORNS in 2021 which involves officers and social workers teaming up to handle calls related to homelessness, mental health, and substance abuse.

This summer the city of Durham kick-started a new program, HEART, that involves unarmed responders handling nonthreatening calls that could be related to mental health crises. The program also has resources for counselors to respond alongside officers and follow up after incidents to connect individuals to community resources.

Going forward, Dodson said policies need to be proactive and aim to tackle the root of the problem.

"If policing continues to be funded at its current level like it is and we don't fund more in like mental health or school programs for kids to keep them off the streets. If we're not doing something proactive besides just locking people up. That's not going to be a long-term solution," Dodson said.