Calls to ‘defund the police’ are upending FY21 budgets. Here’s how.

In this interactive report, Smart Cities Dive details how each state’s largest city adjusted its public safety funding — if at all — amid demands for reallocations of police budgets.
Brian Tucker and Kendall Davis with assets via Getty Images

In the wake of the May 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, racial justice advocates nationwide called for a societal change that has upended city budgeting processes: “Defund the police.”

While the intention behind this demand has varied, the call for police “defunding” at its core aims to reallocate budgetary resources from police departments to community initiatives. And as U.S. cities finalize and tap into their operational budgets for FY21, they are under the microscope of communities calling for change.

A number of cities responded by holding emergency city hall and council meetings to discuss budgetary adjustments. The presence of the novel coronavirus pandemic compounded these conversations after “blowing massive holes” in city budgets, particularly those that serve populations smaller than 500,000.

In an effort to explore this national conversation, Smart Cities Dive began digging through the budgets of each state’s largest city (and the District of Columbia) in July 2020 to compare FY21 police department budgets with those of FY20. Key research highlights in this final iteration of our report include:

  • About 20% of the cities in this report have committed to increased officer training for de-escalation tactics and education on the topics of bias and diversity.
  • At least five of the jurisdictions analyzed passed police reform measures in November elections. The majority of those efforts implemented various forms of stronger police oversight.
  • Sixteen of the cities have also declared racism a public health crisis, according to the American Public Health Association. And six of the cities’ counties — those of Chicago, Houston, Detroit, Milwaukee, Seattle and Omaha, NE — have declared racism a public health crisis.

As we reflect on this project, we’d love to hear from you: What trends did you glean from this data? What is your city doing to address demands for budgetary adjustments? Drop us a note and let us know.

Methodology

The budgetary and population data for each city represents data for the city itself, not the metro area or county, with the exception of Honolulu, Louisville, KY and Nashville, TN. These cities’ police budgets are inclusive of regional funding.

Population numbers are based on the most current statistics provided by the city, their budget documentation or the Census Bureau. The numbers have been rounded to the nearest thousand to account for fluctuating population counts between census years.

Budget numbers reflect the cities’ overall operating budgets, as indicated in publicly accessible budget documents and/or as confirmed by city officials. Police budget numbers reflect the general allocation of those funds to the respective city’s police department.

Smart Cities Dive developed this report to reflect the most recent numbers available regarding city police funding and budget allocations. We invite analysis and commentary from readers. If you wish to comment on this data or have any questions for our team, please contact [email protected]