Defund the police encounters resistance as violent crime spikes

Police officers hold a line in front of Los Angeles City Hall during a protest demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and also in solidarity with Portland's protests in July 2020.

(CNN)One year since a nationwide movement sparked calls for slashing police funding in favor of other nontraditional forms of public safety, it's not clear whether any city achieved anything resembling what protesters demanded: massively defunded or abolished police departments.

The calls to cut funding and overhaul policing came after a police officer in Minnesota killed George Floyd by kneeling on his neck, and video of the encounter set off one of, if not the, largest protest movements in American history.
Some departments defunded, at the insistence of protesters, cutting some from their budget without resorting to layoffs, and those departments saw changes in how they had to work. Nearly all major American cities are seeing spikes in violent crime. Republican politicians have used the "defund the police" movement as a political bludgeon against Democrats. President Joe Biden is on the record against defunding law enforcement. A recent public disagreement between Democratic representatives Jim Clyburn and Rashida Tlaib highlighted a division among democrats in how to approach changes to policing.
      All these appear to be serious barriers for the police reform movement focused on defunding or abolishing police departments.
        In Los Angeles, the city is poised to reinstate some funding cut from its department, which is raising questions about whether this will be a pattern seen elsewhere in the country. That department will see an increase in funding that restores some cuts, but doesn't put staffing at a pre-pandemic level.
          "From police transformation hitting headwinds, I think I would say it's actually getting more mature, which is to say it is bumped up against some realities and that's not such a bad thing," said Rosa Brooks, an associate dean at Georgetown Law. "I don't actually think the momentum is going away. But I do think that people have been hit with the complexity of the situation, and that has forced a more nuanced discussion which is a good thing, not a bad thing."
          "The 'defunding the police,' I think was not a helpful slogan, and I think that the shift to slogans like 're-imagining public safety' is a much more constructive one, and is likely to lead to much better discussions and less likely to just push people away from the start," she said.
          Laura Cooper, the executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, said police chiefs in cities across the country met last week to discuss current issues facing police departments. Chiefs talked about the increase in gun violence, the increase in younger shooters who see guns as tools for conflict resolution, as well as the defund the police movement.
          "There has not been a universal defund movement across major cities," Cooper said. "I think there was a little bit of retooling of the department budgets, but I can't say that defund has actually played out. The sustained increase in violent crime, the gun violence that we've been seeing, and calls from the community that they don't want less police, they want better police, seems to be resonating."

          Los Angeles

          The city of Los Angeles cut its police department budget last July by $150 million, limiting overtime pay and reducing staffing to its lowest levels in over a decade. The cuts were made during a summer filled with protests against police brutality and followed an uproar over Mayor Eric Garcetti's original budget proposal to increase police spending to $1.86 billion from $1.73 billion the year before. Police reform advocates in the city called the cuts "a start," but noted that police spending was still slated to make up over half the city's discretionary spending.
          However, almost a year later, Garcetti is now seeking to increase the LAPD's budget by 3% to $1.76 billion. Like in many major cities, homicides and other forms of violent crime in Los Angeles have risen sharply in the past year, and the LAPD is facing an unexpected staffing shortage. The LAPD was expected to have roughly 9,750 officers at the end of June 2021 -- but an increase in retirements and resignations have left the department with about 9,450 officers, which Garcetti is hoping to expand with this year's budget.
          "We were reduced from a 10,100 person organization to 9,750 and we have fallen below that because of the pandemic and the economic pullback that occurred across America," Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore said on Erin Burnett Out Front.
          Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore in January 2021.
          "We have fallen below 9,500 officers. This budget is going to allow us to start hiring, to start putting cops through the academy and back on the streets to get back to the 9,750 officers. So we'll still have, and we will still shoulder, the cutbacks that were placed on us a year ago."
          Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter -- Los Angeles, said they're hoping to stop that hiring.
          "We're hopeful that the people will stay engaged and that we can hold our elected officials accountable, and remind them that just because we're moving beyond what people are calling the George Floyd moment that it's not a moment, it's a movement, and we need to have police defunded and invest those dollars into things that actually make communities safe," she said.
          Homicides and aggravated assaults in the city has increased over the last two years. Year to date, homicide up 26.5 percent over 2020, up 44.9 percent over 2019. Aggravated assault is up 12.8 percent year over year, and 11.3 percent over 2019. Overall violent crime is up year-over-year 5.8 percent, driven by homicide and aggravated assault numbers.
          The overall city budget, proposed at $11.2 billion, was bolstered in large part by the $777 million the city will receive from the American Rescue Plan, and is a sharp increase from last year's $10.5 billion city budget. And while the LAPD's budget will increase, the city is also allocating large increases in spending to address homelessness, economic recovery from the pandemic and other issues facing the city. The share of the city's unrestricted revenues spent on police will also decrease, from 53% in 2020 to 46% in 2021.
          Activists have called for diverting funding for police to other non-police services to handle calls where it's believed someone's having a mental health problem. Moore told CNN that he'd welcome additional social services, especially available around-the-clock.
          "America has got to stop being cheap when it comes to its investment in mental health services and stop relying on police and fire to be the 911 in those type of needs," he said. "But until that happens, until we build that capacity ... we're called upon to fill that gap."
          "What I look forward to, whether it be Black Lives Matter or any other organization, is working with them to identify and build, actually build, not notionalize, but actually put the hundreds of mental health workers, outreach workers and engagement for those experiencing homelessness, in the streets across the 24-hour clock," he said.


          In Seattle last year, the city council approved a budget that cut police funding by 18 percent. Some protesters there "envisioned a world without police."
          Protesters and at least one city council member, pushed for a reduction of half to be achieved in part by not sending officers to mental health or homelessness calls. They even set up a police-free area, ceded to them by the city. But according to CNN reporting, they immediately had to deal with all those issues and more -- with only the donated time and supplies of fellow protesters, who still had day jobs. With police absent from the six-square-block area, the experiment spun out of control, with accusations that it ended up causing exactly what it had aimed to stop: more violence against Black people.
          Demonstrators face off with police near the Seattle Police Departments East Precinct in June 2020.
          In September, a total of thirty-nine officers quit or retired from the department, CNN affiliate KIRO reported. Over 100 left in 2020, higher than in any year since at least 2012, the department told the affiliate.
          "We are losing an unprecedented number of officers, which makes it even more critical that we recruit and retain officers committed to reform and community policing that reflect the diversity and values of our city," Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement to KIRO.