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What it Means to Defund the Police


In the United States, people call 9-1-1 for a number of reasons, from cats stuck in trees, to mental health breakdowns, to violent crimes. In many of these cases, the police are expected to handle situations that they are not adequately trained for. In Germany, for example, police recruits are required to spend two and a half to four years in basic training to become an officer, with the option to pursue the equivalent of a bachelor’s or master’s degree in policing, or law enforcement, etc. Basic training in the U.S., by comparison, can take as little as 21 weeks (or 33.5 weeks, with field training). In the U.S., police officers get an average of 8 months of training, where little time is spent on de-escalation training or crisis prevention, and are then expected to go out and protect the masses, including vulnerable populations like the mentally disabled, homeless, and those struggling with addiction. Last year alone, American police killed more than 1,000 civilians, while there was only 1 such killing in Sweden, and 2 in the United Kingdom.

In the weeks since George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer, nationwide anti-racism protests have called for, among other things, “defunding” the police. However, the members of the Minneapolis City Council decided to go further, announcing their intent to dismantle their police department altogether. Such a promise might have been deemed radical only a few weeks ago. But as the demonstrations following Floyd’s death have grown, and as police violence against peaceful protesters and journalists has been thrust into the national spotlight, the question of how police forces should protect and serve their communities and what should become of those that don’t have become all the more urgent.

So what does it really mean to “defund the police?” Before we can talk about taking money away, let’s discuss police budgets. The Detroit Police Department budget was about $331 million in 2019 with a 2021 budget on track to reflect a $7 million increase from that. With few mental health facilities and experts, the DPD handles calls for mental health concerns, issues with homelessness, and civil unrest. Historically, DPD hasn’t been well equipped to handle those cases, as was famously shown in the rape kit scandal of 2009

“Defunding” has come to mean a few different things in our most current discourse: dismantling the entire police force and restarting new like Camden, New Jersey did in 2013, or taking some funding from the police budget to put towards different programs and community aid, or dismantling police departments entirely, without providing a direct replacement for “policing” the people. For example, in Dallas the RIGHT Care Project, which fought not to dismantle the entire police force, but to decrease their role in non-violent situations, while allowing medical and social service workers to take the lead. “There is no magic switch to turn off and boom there’s no police department,” said Alex Vitale, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College, whose 2017 book “The End of Policing” has become a manifesto for protesters and police-reform advocates. Vitale and other anti-police activists recognize the challenge of the task of getting rid of police, but believe it is worth our trying. You can learn more about the book and its arguments from an interview with Vitale here.

Defunding law enforcement "means that we are reducing the ability for law enforcement to have resources that harm our communities.

Dismantle: Take apart or get rid of.


Goals: Age Group: 6th-12th grade

  • Learn about the movement to defund police 

Supplies: Time: 30-45 minutes.

  • An open mind


Watch this video on defunding the police

And this video;

Now, read this short article on defunding police:

Released today :


What do the police do in your neighborhood? Use the chart below to brainstorm possible community responses that police departments currently have responsibility to take care of.

The issueWhich field/s is it? ( safety, mental health, animal, drug, gun violence, etc. Who else might be able to do this job instead of police? 


Reflection Questions:

  • What do you believe is the job of the police? 

  •  What do you think of "defunding" vs "dismantling" the police

  • In your view, are there some situations that police are called to that they shouldn’t be or that they don’t have to be? Please explain your thoughts.

  • Describe in your own words what makes this issue so complicated.

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