Calls to 'defund the police' are growing within the nationwide movement for racial justice and police reform.
Protesters have flooded the streets demanding changes in policing since George Floyd, a Black man, died after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes in Minneapolis.
Defunding the police is largely understood to mean reallocating funds from police departments to other community resources. Some activists, however, are calling for police departments to be completely dismantled. Regardless, these calls to 'defund the police' — which are supported by about one-third of Americans — involve reimagining the current policing system in the United States.
Penn Law School professor of Law, Business Economics, and Public Policy David Abrams said that while defunding the police has different meanings for different people, the movement is more about reworking the role of the police.
“In particular, there's a focus on narrowing the scope of what police do, and having different types of people like social workers, or other kinds of individuals take on some of the roles that police do now,” Abrams said. “If you split police departments a little bit, and you reduce the scope of what police themselves do, then, along with that, you would expect lower budgets."
Advocates for defunding the police believe that investing in communities will be more effective at reducing crime by directly addressing issues — such as poverty, mental illness, and homelessness — that often fall under the responsibility of police officers.
According to a survey from the Treatment Advocacy Center, law enforcement agencies spend 21% of their time responding to and transporting persons with mental illness.
Rising Wharton sophomore Anuva Shandilya said she believes that some situations where the police are called do not actually require police presence.
“When you talk about defunding the police, it's not about completely abolishing the police force, it's about reinvesting some of those funds into things like creating bigger mental health departments,” Shandilya said.
Rising College sophomore Rachel Harris, however, said that reforming the current police system is like putting “a bandaid on a bullet hole.”
“The system is broken. We saw that Minneapolis had all of the 8 Can't Wait, or almost all of the policies that Campaign Zero is offering as police reform, and George Floyd still died,” Harris said.
Campaign Zero's “8 Can’t Wait” highlights eight solutions the campaign believes will reduce police violence by 72%. According to the "8 Can’t Wait" website, Minneapolis adopted four of the eight solutions — requiring de-escalation, requiring warning before shooting, requiring duty to intervene, and requiring the use of force continuum.
Rising College sophomore and Penn Democrats Communications Director Emma Wennberg said that rethinking the police system is a key part of what activists are currently calling for when they say 'defund the police,' and said that dismantling the police and defunding the existing policing system go hand-in-hand.
“The dismantling has to do with restructuring the style of public safety, while the defunding has to do with how resources are allocated towards policing versus toward other services,” Wennberg said. “I think that we really need to reimagine what our police system looks like, and how we can structure it in a way that will benefit everyone, rather than continuing to push for reforms that are just bandaid[s] on a fundamentally broken system."
President and 1968 Wharton graduate Donald Trump recently referred to various police reform efforts such as defunding, dismantling, and disbanding the police as “radical efforts” that will “produce only more poverty, more crime, more suffering.”
Advocates of the 'defund the police' movement prove, however, that disbanding the police has been done in Camden, NJ, and that the city's crime rate has since decreased by almost 50%.
Minneapolis announced on June 7 that the city will dismantle its police department and replace it with a new system. The nine city council members who approved the resolution began its first steps on Friday, but the lengthy process requires voters to approve of removing the city's Police Department from its core departments, The New York Times reported.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney released his agenda for police reform on June 9, which eliminated a proposed increase to the police budget in his revised budget plan for the 2021 fiscal year. The decision came days after citywide protests over the death of George Floyd and demonstrated backlash to the revised budget plan, which was released on May 1.
The revised budget plan outlined an almost $14 million increase from the original 2021 fiscal year budget, and allocated 15% of the total budget to the Philadelphia Police Department.
Along with eliminating the monetary budget increase, the reformed agenda prohibits the Philadelphia Police Department from using chokeholds, and sitting or kneeling on a person's neck, face, or head.
Kenney's agenda also proposed the creation of a permanent civilian police oversight commission in Philadelphia and more transparency in Internal Affairs Investigations. The specifics of the oversight commission have not yet been determined, but it will be able to conduct reviews of civilian complaints and use-of-force incidents.
Internal Affairs investigations are conducted after a complaint is issued about conduct that violates police procedures or laws.
In order to increase transparency, Kenney also proposed the Philadelphia Police Department “expand reporting of civilian complaints and internal investigations” by posting quarterly complaints with anonymized personal information about both the officer and the complainant.
Abrams said that while these recent changes are a good start to police reform, they are not enough.
“The extent to which his reform proposals are going to be effective and meaningful is going to be seen by not just what he says the week after massive protests, but what he does a year after it,” Abrams said.
Like Abrams, Wennberg, who said she felt “encouraged” seeing Kenney respond to protesters' demands, said these steps are not enough in comparison to the action demanded by the 'defund the police' movement.
“We've seen that calls for reform and the ways that they manifest often are not actually sufficient to stop police violence,” Wennberg said. “Many other cities have tried to adopt similar forms of civilian oversight and reform that simply do not do enough.”
Recently, a “Petition to End Penn Police State Collusion” circulating within the Penn community has gathered over 12,000 signatures. The petition calls for Penn to stop supporting the “racist, fascist police state” that many feel exists on campus and in the Philadelphia Police Department. It also has various other demands, ranging from opening the University campus to West Philadelphia, to asking that the University pay property taxes it currently does not pay as a non-profit operation.
“By reinvesting funds that would be going towards law enforcement, into actually making communities stronger, you will make cities safer and limit the power of the police to use violence to really brutalize communities, as we've seen in the past few days and as communities of color have seen in the past decades,” Wennberg said.