Defund the police: Did local budgets reallocate funds after the murder of George Floyd?

Tuesday, July 12, 2022
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"Defund the police" became a rallying call that echoed through the streets across the nation following George Floyd's death in the summer of 2020.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- "Defund the police" became a rallying call that echoed through the streets across the nation following George Floyd's death in the summer of 2020.

Social justice advocates pressed for leaders to reallocate dollars away from police departments and into other community resources like mental health programs.

Now, two years later, an analysis by the ABC11 I-Team and the ABC Data Team uncovered many cities have not acted on those demands, instead, police budgets continue to increase in around 88% of the cities reviewed.

Fayetteville, Raleigh and Durham leaders have continued to increase the money for their police departments year after year.

Similarly, the number of funded positions has also grown within Fayetteville and Raleigh police departments. The city of Durham's budget shows a slight decrease in the number of funded officers since 2020.

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.

Still, activists said this continual increase in police budgets demonstrates that city leaders don't get what is needed to improve the lives of citizens.

"It's not about putting more dollars into police. If we continue to put more dollars into police, we can expect the same results, the same controversy, the same death and the same injustice and that's unfortunately where we are," said Shaun McMillian, the founder of the Fayetteville Police Accountability Task Force (PACT).

Fayetteville PACT has been critical of the Fayetteville Police Department for years. The group has pressed for increased police oversight and accountability; McMillian and others were also supporters of the defund movement.

What McMillian and other advocates started pressing for in 2020 isn't really about decreasing the number of officers on the street or public safety resources, rather it's centered on looking at different ways to tackle public safety by investing in the community as a whole.

"I think it's a mindset change and that will take more public education, but it will also take elected officials who get it," he explained. "Right now, there aren't too many of them that are willing to shift their idea of public safety away from police and toward creating safe neighborhoods, safe schools, safe health care networks that really provide a stable environment for people."

The need to have an investment in resources across the community is a need that many police do recognize.

"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," said Fayetteville Police Chief Gina Hawkins.

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

Hawkins said since 2020 her department has sat down with city leaders to assist them in better understanding how their funds are spent.

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

"Officers didn't have the time to deal with what resources that individual was needing whereas this individual can, so that minimize the repeated calls that our officers are going to with those two positions," Hawkins said speaking to the new positions within her agency. "Our ability to possibly in the future expand on that capability...like a co-partner response to the community is an option that we can look at."

McMillian, however, said he doesn't believe any systematic change has occurred in the department.

"I do credit them with standing up and hiring liaisons. But if they want true justice and accountability, they've got to go much further than that. They really need to bring activists to the table. They need to move beyond performative statements," McMillian said of the additions.

He and others would like to see the issues of homelessness and mental health be tackled without officers.

"I think there are probably people in the mental health field, people that can provide social services that are better equipped to do that. I worry very much about the criminalization of homelessness as being on our horizon when you throw police at the problem," McMillian explained.

Leaders in Raleigh and Durham have also revamped how their police 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 month 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.

John Midgette, a police lobbyist with the NC Police Benevolent Association, said the defund movement has also had a negative impact.

"People aren't talking about defunding the police anymore, but they have in fact defunded the police," he said. "The police have almost defunded themselves."

Midgette said the culture and perception of the public towards officers have taken a toll. He also believes there is a lack of due process when officers are scrutinized which has negatively impacted the profession.

"We had officers realizing that no one had their back...They were being accused of not only being racist but murderers and having no respect for the very job that they dedicated their lives to do," he said.

While leaders, advocates and police continue to have different opinions on how to achieve public safety, all sides agree that further investments in mental health resources are needed.

"We have been talking for years about the mental health crisis in this country where the police have been given authorities, they're not qualified or equipped to handle," Midgette said. "If you look to the root problems of this, there's a lot of mental health issues going on; with that with people desperate for help. They can't get it anywhere. So the officers want to be a part of that solution."

Midgette believes some of these solutions could start materializing if leaders involve the police, the community, and advocates in the discussions going forward.

"They are the victims of crime, and we are the protectors of those victims. So maybe if you start a dialogue with those factors involved, instead of the people allegedly representing all of us that don't actually ever go to these communities, we might actually get somewhere," he explained.