Is defunding the police a feasible solution to police brutality?

Criminal Justice

Is defunding the police a feasible solution to police brutality?

Overview of the role and functions of Police

Over the years, there has been a drastic change in the law enforcement in America since it was founded. During the initial forming of the country and colonial times, law enforcement in local communities was carried out by part time officers and volunteer groups and was funded privately by the local community members (Rushin & Michalski, 2020). Policing was very informal in Colonial America based on the privately funded firms that employed people on part time basis where volunteers signed up for a “night watch” at different times to look out for fellow colonists engaging in gambling or prostitution.

However, the system was not as efficient since the watchmen would become drank and they feel asleep most of the time while on duty. As urbanization increased, different cities established different ways of policing thus rendering the night-watch system useless as communities got big. Therefore, in 1838, there was a creation of the first centralized, municipal police department in the city of Boston. Boston was a commercial centre with large shipping which led to businesses hiring people to safeguard the transportation of goods and protect their property from the port of Boston to other places. This was followed by similar agencies and by the late 1800s; there was a creation of some manner of formal police force.

The late 19th was the era of political machines and in most cases police were used to harass opponents of a particular political party. However, in 1929, the Wickersham Commission was appointed to examine the ineffectiveness of law enforcement and police were made independent from political party ward leaders. Further, the act of professionalizing the police followed. In today’s era, there has been increased demand for formal police training as well as professionalism among members of law enforcement community due to the rise of formal law enforcement agencies (Vitale, 2017).

The officials of law enforcement play a crucial role in the communities as they undertake efforts of ensuring there is justice for various criminal offences. They conduct arrests to hold individuals accountable for violating the law thus ensuring there is public safety. According to Sherman (2020), the purpose of law enforcement is promoting public safety and upholding rule of law in a free society so that the liberty of individuals may flourish. Accountability and trust between the communities and law enforcement is crucial in advancing the role and functions of police. The government has the power of exercising force in achieving its ends although it does so in a way that upholds the rule of law and protects community members. The practices of proper policing require that positive relationships are built between the communities and law enforcement, avoiding tactics that lead to use of excessive force against citizen and respect civil liberties.

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However, in the recent times, police have been exercising undue or excessive force against individuals which is against the civil rights. As such, there has been a debate on whether to defund the police or not. Therefore, this essay presents the arguments for and against defunding the police and a conclusion on the same.

  • Arguments for defunding the police

After the death of George Floyd, there have been suggestions on police reforms and defunding police has been one of them. Police defunding is the process of redirecting or reallocating funding away from the police department to other agencies of the government that are funded by the local municipality (Gikay & Iheme, 2020). Defunding is different from abolishing policing and even though some people say it is abolishing, they necessarily do not mean doing away with the law enforcement altogether. Some of the main arguments for defunding the police include the following:

Calls for service

Data shows that 9 out of 10 calls for services are mostly for nonviolent encounters. However, some incidents turn violent although at times police contribute to escalating the violence. Based on the social interactions that police have, their skill set and training are often of sync. This is as a result of police being trained mostly on using force tactics and worst case scenarios as a way of reducing potential threats (Asher & Horwitz, 2020). Nevertheless, most of their interactions with civilians start with a conversation. The arguments by some advocates such as Thenjiwe McHarris and Phillip McHarris is that when the funding is shifted to social services it can lead to improvement of such things as addiction, mental health and homelessness thus using taxpayers money in a better way. Further, this approach leads to enhancement of the push to decriminalizing and destigmatizing people with addition problems and health conditions. Some scholars, policymakers and practitioners argue that this shift is long overdue since the overcriminalization of people addicted to cocaine in the 1990s.

Moreover, based on some studies, police tend to respond to everything from the street potholes to cats stuck up a tree. Additionally, despite documentation being an essential aspect that is much needed, police officers are increasingly asked to complete paperwork.  In this regard, it could be argued that the likelihood of solving violent crimes would be increased by reducing the workload on police officers. In most cases, police officers are overstressed and overworked and focusing on unskilled tasks throughout the day is not efficient and is a waste of taxpayers’ money. Therefore, other government actors can receive adequate funding and be responsible for some of the police activities.

Education and work infrastructure

In the social science literature, establishing work infrastructure is the best approach to reducing crime and enhancing education equity. A study by Rushin & Michalski (2020), opines that there is no significant decrease in crime when the police funding is increased. One of the reasons why people protest in the streets could be as a result of throwing more police on the street to solve a structural problem. Therefore, defunding police could aid in the reduction of police violence and crime.

Homicide Clearance Rate

When it comes to solving violent crimes, police officers are not as successful as people tend to think. There are fairly low police stops relative to convictions and charges. In a study by NYPD, it was established that at least 90% of the people who were stopped by the police had not committed crimes and did not have any weapons or contraband on them (Preito-Hodge & Tomaskovic-Devey, 2020). The people who were stopped in most cases were Latinos and Blacks and half of the time the physical force was used. In this case, when interacting with white people, police use suspicious behavior while when they are interacting with black people they use skin tome as the metric of suspicion.

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Overall, Vitale (2017) argues that the purpose of police is not dealing with instances of social ills but upholding inequalities in the society based on sexuality, race and gender. In the past police have been known to facilitate colonialism and slavery as well as suppressing the rights of movements for workers. Police reform has failed and there is need for enhanced accountability, police to be trained differently by adopting new techniques, changes in the police culture to get rid of or reduce ‘warrior mentality’ that leads to creation of an ‘us and them’ outlook. Nevertheless, Vitale (2017) sees police reform as having limited benefits without more social changes which includes having a proper understanding of the role of policing. Additionally, the reforms may not be effective as a result of the wider system of coercive governance that leads to increased social injustice.

There has been a rise in the extreme violent cases in the policing of homelessness as well as policing of the war on drugs and sex work where the police have failed. In this regard, the argument by Vitale (2017) is that policing is doomed to fail in dealing with these activities and makes a case for regulation and harm reduction. The alternatives offered in this case are community empowerment and economic development to aid in enhancing the right policing. Proponents have argued since 1980s that crime is mostly a working class and poorer community’s problem thus requiring a law enforcement response. In this regard, the counter argument by Vitale (2017) is appropriate in that the most vulnerable communities to crime can ask for more policing as also asks for better jobs, healthcare and jobs.

Therefore, law enforcement is as vital as social investment. Nevertheless, arguments can be raised on where and from whom the drive for the proposals done by Vitale can come from. He points on a few initiatives done in the urban areas which can be enhanced by Mayors in the US cities since the nature of law enforcement in the US provides for such initiatives. Vitale (2017) does not fully advocate for full police abolition and supports police reforms by hinting at the possibilities of police defund.

  • Argument against Police Defund

Despite the benefits discussed above on the issue of police defund, there are various demerits that are experienced as a result of police defund. They include;

Increment in violence and civilian injuries when the budgets of police departments are cut

In this regard, police officers who are primarily populated by people of color or are in smaller jurisdictions are paid less in most cases. For instance, new officers in Hillsdale (a suburb in St. Louis, Missouri) are paid $13.50 hourly when they are on probation which may not be able to sustain them. As a result, many officers are forced to look for extra jobs which leave them tired and less prepared to deal with the police situation which is usually stressful (Rushin & Michalski, 2020). Many police departments were forced to cut officers due to the decrease in federal funding during the 2008 recession. Also, use- of –force complaints almost doubled in Memphis since officers in departments which were understaffed were forced to work overtime.

Moreover, in Wales and England, when the police budgets were cut in 2010, it resulted to fewer police by 14% in 2017 and the crimes on knife, gun and serious violent crimes increased by 20% with the homicide cases rising by 39% between 2015 and 2019 (Gikay & Iheme, 2020). In March this year (2020), the Home Office was committed to hire 20,000 officers. Director Jonathon Monken who is the Illinois State Police opined that there was an increase in fatal car accidents as a result of reducing the traffic officers after the budget cuts in 2010. For purposes of raising funds, Monken implemented a policy whereby for each citation written such as speeding ticket, $15 goes to the state police. However, such tickets cost residents more than expected in most cases with communities of color being hard hit and ill-equipped to pay such tickets. Additionally, when department revenue is at stake, officers tend to write more tickets.

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There is an overstatement at the level of police misconduct more police are being called for crime-ridden areas and reforms are possible and supported by many Americans

The rising crime rates and police corruption in Camden, New Jersey, led to the disbanding of the local police department. Now the department is run by the county and de-escalation training was implemented defining of chokeholds as deadly force and officers were supposed to step in if a colleague used excessive force. The tasks given to the officers included introducing themselves to residents, patrolling on foot and hosting community barbecues. Between 2012 and 2019, there was a drop in violent crime by 42% and nationwide, it declined by 9% between 2009 and 2018 (Rushin & Michalski, 2020). The co-founder of the We the Protestors Sam Sinyangwe explained that police shooting dropped by at least 30% in some largest cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago. In this regard, it shows that Black Lives Matter activists and other groups have tried their best to push for de-escalation, greater accountability and stricter use-of-force policies.

Few black people are murdered by white police each year which is contrary to the publicly asserted “war”. An analysis of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia indicated that there was a less likelihood of white officers shooting an unarmed black person with a threat perception failure (TPF) of 5.2% with black suspects. Hispanic officers had a 16.7% rate while black officer had 11.4% rate. The June 2020 poll indicated that 82% of Americans agreed to ban of police using chokeholds, 83% supported the banning of racial profiling and 92% agreed that police should wear body cameras. 89% agreed that during police stops, officers should give their name, reason for stop and their badge number. Independent investigations of misconduct in departments were supported by 91% and 75% supported that the victims of police misconduct should sue the police departments for damages. In this regard, there would be a decrease in police violence if police departments were reformed to pay more attention on black neighborhoods the same way they focus on wealthy white neighborhoods. There is under policing in black neighborhoods since the police mostly focus on traffic and drug stops (Gikay & Iheme, 2020).

Police departments should be held to standardized national regulations and should not be disbanded which should comply with the laws of international human rights

After the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri in August 2014, president Obama formed the Task Force for the president on 21st Century policing. The final report produced in May 2015 suggest that the Department of Justice should launch  best practices and national benchmarks for state, federal, tribal and local police departments among the 58 other standardized requirements nationally(Preito-Hodge & Tomaskovic-Devey, 2020). The suggestion by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is that many federal reforms including a national comprehensive policy on use-of-force, ending the transfer of military equipment to police departments, mandatory racial biases training, a law banning lethal force and ending the transfer of military equipment to police departments,   among others. Based on EJI, these reforms can aid in changing the culture of policing in order to build accountability, legitimacy and trust.


Based on the discussion, the arguments for supporting police defund indicate that when calling for service, most of the services are non violent encounters although at times police contribute to escalating the violence. This can be as a result of police training where they are mostly trained using force tactics and worst case scenarios as a way of reducing potential threats. Additionally, in the case of education and work infrastructure, people tend to protest in the streets as a result of throwing more police on the street to solve a structural problem. On homicide clearance rates, police officers are not as successful as people tend to think. NYPD had established that at 90% of the people stopped by police had not committed crimes and did not have any weapons and most people stopped were people of color.

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However, my argument is against police defunding because, most of the officers are paid low wages which results to the officers looking for extra jobs. In return, they end up being tired and are less prepared to deal with the policing job which stressful. When the police budgets are cut, they result to increased serious violent crimes, homicide cases as well as crimes involving guns and knives. Additionally, police defund can result to some tickets costing residents more than expected in most communities since the police are determined to raise funds, also, when the revenue of the department is at stake, officers can be forced to write more tickets. The level of police misconduct is overstated and that some solutions can be established to end police brutality such as victims of police misconduct suing the police departments for damages.

Police departments being reformed to pay more attention on black neighborhoods the same way they focus on wealthy white neighborhoods. Moreover, during police stops, officers should give their name, reason for stop and their badge number and the issue of under policing in black neighborhoods should be sorted out. Other elements which should be considered include those suggested by Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) that there should be racial biases training which is mandatory, ending the transfer of military equipment to police departments and a law banning lethal force among others.

Therefore, I do not support that police defund is a feasible solution for police brutality. Based on the arguments against police defund, various solutions can be put in place on how to reduce police brutality since there will be more harm when police are defunded as opposed to having more benefits.


Asher, J., & Horwitz, B. (2020). How Do the Police Actually Spend Their Time?. Retrieved 16 August 2020, from

Gikay, A. A., & Iheme, W. (2020). Deprofitizing the Justice System: The Beginning of an End to Police Brutality against Black People in America. Available at SSRN.

Preito-Hodge, K., & Tomaskovic-Devey, D. (2020). A Tale of Force: Examining Policy Proposals to Address the Issue of Police Violence. Available at SSRN.

Rushin, S., & Michalski, R. (2020). Police Funding. Fla. L. Rev.72, 277.

Sherman, L. W. (2020). Targeting American Policing: Rogue Cops or Rogue Cultures?.

Vitale, A. S. (2017). The end of policing. Verso Books.

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