Discussion about defunding the police has recently become a very public and controversial topic. On the national stage, political opinions range from Trump’s outright dismissal of defunding police to Biden’s outright dismissal of defunding police.
In the national media, the conversation around defunding police from “liberal” outlets is largely focused on how the idea is unpopular (despite its tone, that article finds that most Black Americans (57%) and most Democrats (55%) actually support defunding police) or “what it means”. Unsurprisingly Fox news appears to be strongly opposed to defunding the police, to put it mildly.
In our local media, we see a similar pattern. Police defunding, when it’s discussed at all, is presented in a largely negative fashion. Much of the discourse focuses on minor reforms such as additional training and greater use of body cams, while mostly avoiding the topic of police spending.
Many of us on the left are probably already in favor of defunding police for one reason or another. If local media provided more varied opinions on defunding police, I believe the movement could gain greater popular support here in Ohio.
One way we might begin such a discussion is to examine how the city of Akron allocates its funds. Akronohio.gov hosts the operating budgets for the years 1994 through 2019, and they contain some interesting information. In 2019, the police department was budgeted $56,926,570, 33.93% of the total budget. By contrast, public service was budgeted $21,629,600 and public health was budgeted $4,479,960. Compare that with the year 2000; police were budgeted $38,744,720, public service $21,494,550, Public Health $6,458,850. That same table also shows the actual spend by department for the past three years. If you compile the data, from these reports you’ll find it looks like this.
As you can see, there’s a clear trend. Police spending continues to mostly go up; Akron spent over $15,000,000 dollars more on policing in 2018 than in 2000. Public service and public health spending mostly stagnates or decreases; Akron spent less on both public service and public health in 2018 than it did in 2000. Adjusted for inflation, this disparity is even more pronounced.
Personally, I find it difficult to imagine ever rising police budgets and cuts to public service being popular with the people of Akron. One has to wonder how polling results might change if respondents were shown these statistics before they were asked about police spending.
The movement to defund police has been gaining traction in the press and in government. In light of that, I think it’s critical that we continue the conversation around the value of policing and support the voices around this movement that have been fighting for justice for years. It’s equally important we follow the lead of cities around the country in demanding our local government defund police and reinvest that money in communities that need it.