Police departments have reported increases in violent crime such as homicides in U.S. cities over the last year, leading some officials to question the effectiveness of cutting funds from police departments and allocating them to other community services.
“I think the verdict is no longer out. … If we make calls indiscriminately to defund the police. We’ve been playing with that natural experiment over the past year or so, and the results are back in, and it’s not good for our communities,” said Scott Wolfe, Ph.D., an associate professor at Michigan State University’s School of Criminal Justice.
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He added that “defund the police” and “public criticism of those movements has a direct impact on violent crime in our communities.”
The professor defined criminals who feel “emboldened” as those who do not view the police as legitimate and therefore “go against their authority,” as well as those who do not feel the law applies to them because it “only serves those who are in power.”
“It leads to a pullback in policing — in our police officers on the street,” Wolfe said. “If the public is saying, ‘We don’t want you out there, we don’t want you policing,’ [police] respond accordingly.”
The professor pointed to Portland, Oregon, and Seattle as examples of cities where communities have seen weakened law enforcement and more violent crime as a result of calls to defund or abolish the police.
While Wolfe also believes aspects of American policing need to be “changed” or “fixed,” “many portions of the population have gone too far” in their criticism of law enforcement.
One solution to boost morale among police could be more public support in favor of law enforcement, he said. Another solution would be to help police come up with ways to “do their jobs in effective, safe and just ways.”
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He added that remote learning and less parental supervision may have also led to an increase in crime committed by minors.
Calls from progressive federal, state and local lawmakers to “defund” police departments or reduce state and citywide police budgets became popularized after then-Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, a Black man, more than a year ago.
Demonstrators, pundits and progressive politicians repeated the phrase last year while more moderate Democrats pushed back against the idea.
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Minneapolis, which was once ground zero for the “defund the police” movement in the wake of Floyd’s death, backtracked on its original push to defund the police department in February after residents begged the city to hire more officers, citing longer response times and increased violent crime.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio cut the New York Police Department’s budget by $1 billion; Los Angeles approved a $150 million police budget cut; Philadelphia approved a $33 million police budget cut in June; Portland, Oregon, cut $16 million from its police budget; and a number of other cities have approved similar reductions.