72 Fla. L. Rev. 277 (2020)
View the article via pdf

Categories

Abstract

A number of civil rights activists have called for the defunding or
abolition of American police departments. These activists claim that the
United States overinvests in police, leaving fewer scarce resources to
support other government services. Activists also claim that
overinvestment in policing contributes to higher rates of police
misconduct and unnecessary criminalization, particularly in communities
of color.

This Article considers these calls for the defunding of police. It
ultimately cautions against widespread defunding of police and offers an
alternative proposal. Part I brings together multiple national databases on
local government expenditures to evaluate empirically how states and
municipalities fund policing. It shows that local police funding varies
remarkably across jurisdictions. Much of this variation exists because
police departments derive funding primarily from local sales and property
taxes. Because of this funding mechanism, economically disadvantaged
communities most in need of public-safety services can often least afford
them.

Part II argues that the defunding of police departments on a wide scale
may have significant and unintended consequences. This Article argues
that defunding could increase crime rates, hamper efforts to control
officer misconduct, and reduce officer safety. Faced with smaller
budgets, defunded agencies may also seek additional revenue through
potentially harmful means like excessive ticketing and civil asset
forfeitures. Defunding could push the delivery of public-safety services
to the private sector. And defunded agencies may ultimately lower officer
salaries, thereby limiting recruitment and retention of qualified
personnel.

Given these drawbacks, this Article remains skeptical that defunding
will improve policing in many jurisdictions. Instead, this Article argues
that states should fundamentally reimagine how they fund the police.
States should view policing as a public good that ought to be equitably
distributed across the population according to need. Just as some state
legislatures have passed revenue-sharing initiatives designed to equalize
the availability of public goods such as education, so too should states act
to equalize the funding of local police departments according to need.
This would ensure that all localities have minimally sufficient resources to investigate crime and promote public safety regardless of the strength
of the local tax base. Additionally, to ensure the quality of policing
services, states should require that each local police department earmark
a specified percentage of its budget for officer training and
accountability. Combined, these regulations of police funding could
ensure that localities have sufficient resources to promote the public good
without drawing limited resources away from other community
initiatives.