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Is it safe to defund the police?

18 Dec 2020 9:32 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

By Gregory L. Walterhouse, Associate Teaching Professor, Bowling Green State University, IPSA Member

Over the past several months, activist groups, celebrities and opinion editorials have called for defunding the police. These actions are not trivial or inconsequential, as they are driving public policy with some corporations and politicians.

Some Corporations are financially supporting the “defund the police” movement. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company drew the ire of many when a leaked company policy that purported to prohibited Goodyear employees from wearing apparel on company premises that supported the police. This was surprising news from a company that is a major supplier of tires for police vehicles.

At the time this story broke, this author contacted Goodyear by email through their corporate website requesting clarification of their policy, but received no reply. Goodyear has since clarified their policy to allow employees to wear apparel that expresses support for police on Goodyear premises.

Of greater concern is the number of politicians that are jumping on the “defund the police” bandwagon. As reported by Newsweek, at the federal level Congresswomen Ilhan Omar (Minnesota), Rashida Tlaib (Michigan), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York) have all called for defunding the police. At the local level, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced his plan to cut $150 million from the city’s police budget. Forbes reports that a number of cities have already reduced police budgets and staffing including Austin, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Baltimore, Portland, Philadelphia, Hartford, Salt Lake City and Washington D.C.

The call to defund the police, though vague and generally undefined, purportedly stems from the claimed injustice of violent police encounters with African American males, most notably George Floyd in Minneapolis.

What the data shows

The 2018 United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) summary reveals that only 2% of U.S. residents that had police contact experienced threats or use of force. It is noteworthy that the study includes handcuffing as a use of force. There are 223.3 million licensed drivers in the U.S. of which 8.6% experienced a stop by police as driver of a motor vehicle. Of those stopped 95% indicated the police behaved properly.

A report in The Federalist Society Review indicates that police made 99% of arrests without the use of force and that in only 0.003% of arrests was deadly force with a firearm used. To place this into context, the BJS reports that 53.5 million people had contact with the police in 2015. A study published in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery supports this data. The authors of the study conclude police use of force is rare, and when used, officers commonly rely on unarmed physical force and conducted electrical weapons (CEW).

Police use of force has also declined over the past 50 years as reported by the Wall Street Journal. In 1971, New York City police officers reported 810 firearm discharges, wounding 220 persons and killing 93. In contrast, in 2016, there were 72 firearm discharges, with 23 wounded and 9 killed.

Harvard Professor Roland Fryer’s research data is instructive. Professor Fryer has found that while black and Hispanic populations are more likely to experience non-lethal force, “on the most extreme use of force — officer-involved shootings — we find no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account.” Another study suggests, that not race, but “exposure to police given crime rate differences likely accounts for the higher per capita rate of fatal police shootings for Blacks.”

Unintended consequences

In a related article, legislative and budgetary actions that are averse to law enforcement agencies have resulted in a higher percentage of police officers resigning or retiring. Compounded by the challenges of recruiting new officers in today’s environment has left many police agencies short staffed. The result is substantially rising crime rates in some cities.

New York City: As of August 2020, shootings are up 87% in New York City from August 2019. New York City has also experienced a 47% increase in murders, 4% increase in robberies and a 22% increase in burglaries for the same period.

Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles: CNN reports that homicides increased 32% in Philadelphia and 52% in Chicago. Similarly, homicides have increased 25% in Los Angeles from 2019-2020.

Austin: The City of Austin who cut roughly one-third of its police budget, has experienced a 40% increases in homicides in 2019, an 18% increase in aggravated assaults, and abnormally high attrition.

Minneapolis: According to the CNN report, homicides increased 85% in Minneapolis from July 2019 to July 2020. After vowing to defund the police in November 2020, the City Council narrowly reversed course after experiencing the highest number of homicides and aggravated assaults in fifteen years and approved nearly $500,000 to contract with the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office and Metro Transit Police for additional officers through the end of December.

However, while not reducing the authorized staffing of 888 officers, the City Council did reduce the budget of Minneapolis Police Department by $8 million. 

Defunding the police is not included in recommendations

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report Police use of Force: An Examination of Modern Policing Practices offers the following highlighted recommendations to reduce incidents of excessive force:

  • Train officers in de-escalation tactics and alternatives to use of force.
  • Investigation and prosecution of use of force cases should be as independent as possible.
  • Courts and legislatures should require judges to preside over grand jury proceedings on use of force cases.
  • Departments should provide aggregate information to the public regarding the numbers of allegations and type of use of force and what steps, if any, departments take to address use of force concerns when they arise.

An article by Rizer and Mooney, suggests similar recommendations including de-escalation in the use of force training, greater transparency in use of force policies, promotion of successful field training officer programs, limiting acquisition and use of military resources, and greater accountability for misuse of force. It is noteworthy that none of these recommendations call for defunding of police and to the contrary would require a greater monetary investment particularly for training and enhanced data collection and dissemination.


According to Harvard Professor Fryer “defunding the police is not a solution and could cost thousands of black lives.” This is evidenced by the rising homicide rate in many cities since the start of defund the police movement. An article in Newsweek suggests “multiple factors explain, these trends, including diminished police legitimacy in the wake of Floyd’s killing.”

The data to support the call to defund the police is light. Citing from Rousseau, security of citizens is an essential element of the social contract, without police there is no security. Accordingly, calls to defund the police are both irrational and irresponsible. 

About the Author

Greg Walterhouse is an Associate Teaching Professor in the Department of Political Science at Bowling Green State University and teaches in the Fire Administration and Master’s in Public Administration programs. Greg holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Management from Oakland University, a Master’s degree in Legal Studies from the University of Illinois, a Master’s degree in Personnel Management from Central Michigan University and a Specialist Degree in Educational Leadership from Bowling Green State University. Prior to coming to BGSU Greg had over 35 years’ experience in public safety holding various positions. The author may be contacted at

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