The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Brian Pitman is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Maine and a member of the Maine chapter of the Scholars Strategy Network. Members’ columns appear in the BDN every other week. Jason Clough is a 2021 graduate of the University of Maine with a degree in sociology and a concentration in crime, law, and justice. This column reflects their views and expertise and does not speak on behalf of the university.
On April 20, Derek Chauvin was convicted of the murder of George Floyd. While this is a small victory for accountability, there continues to be police killings of Black people, as seen with Daunte Wright, Ma’Khia Bryant, Andrew Brown, Jr. and Adam Toledo, among others. Since Floyd’s murder, police have killed approximately 1,014 people (through May 4), including over 300 white people.
This begs the question: What has changed with policing since last May? An evaluation of changes to police nationwide reveals the varied responses to the murder of George Floyd and the summer uprisings.
At the federal level, little has materially changed but there have been policy proposals to reform policing. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants; end qualified immunity, which protects police from civil suits; require data collection on encounters between police and citizens; and create a police misconduct registry.
President Joe Biden, who stated his support for increased funding for police on the campaign trail, has executive power to initiate immediate policing reforms. One Biden campaign promise was developing a police oversight commission in his first 100 days, but the administration eventually decided against doing it.
Biden could also immediately recall the more than $1.7 billion in military equipment transferred to local police departments via the 1033 Program. At the very least, it was expected he would re-implement Obama-era restrictions on his first day in office. He changed course after lobbying from the National Association of Police Organizations. In fact, during Biden’s first quarter as president, police received more military hardware transfers in the 1033 Program (more than $33 million), than they received on average from the Trump Administration (more than $29 million). Recalling this military equipment would demonstrate Biden’s supposed support for racial equity, as police are more likely to deploy military equipment in communities of color.
Some Democratic members of Congress have pressured party leadership to support the BREATHE Act, a policy proposed by the Movement for Black Lives and supported by Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley. This bill would divest from policing and incarceration and invest in federal infrastructure and “non-carceral” forms of accountability. It would end the 1033 Program, predictive policing, the Wars on Drugs and Prostitution, and decriminalize some minor offenses, while investing in housing, healthcare, and other important community needs.
At the local level, some cities have invested more money in policing. Of the 42 largest cities that had increased votes for the Democratic presidential candidate from 2016 to 2020, 24 increased their police budgets. Houston increased their police department’s budget by $20 million to $964 million. San Diego’s police department saw a $27 million increase, while Phoenix saw an approximately $25 million increase. Though Minneapolis, where Floyd was murdered, had recently cut their police budget by $8 million, they approved an additional $6.4 million to hire more police in February. Meanwhile, the Texas House passed a bill disincentivizing the state’s 11 largest cities from defunding police departments, a direct response to Austin cutting $22 million from its police.
Since Floyd’s murder, six states provided additional funding for the implementation of statewide body camera requirements. Here in Bangor, the city council approved body cameras costing an estimated $364,000 over three years.
According to Interrupting Criminalization, some cities are taking more transformative steps to reduce the role of policing in their communities. In Los Angeles and San Francisco, over $100 million was cut or divested from police department budgets, with money being redistributed to public health and youth employment. In Austin, the police budget was cut $22 million, while investing $20 million in programs targeting unhoused people, mental health, and violence prevention.
Denver, Colorado, cut its police budget by $25 million and is investing in a mental health crisis team. In Salt Lake City, Utah, the police budget was cut by $5.3 million, and moved social workers from under the control of police departments. Portland, Oregon eliminated the city’s transit police, while Philadelphia removed public safety officers and crossing guards from under control of the police department.
Research supports these transformative changes, as investing in living wages, housing, health care, education and mental health and drug treatment reduces crime and police contact. Time will tell if the federal government, and more city and state governments will turn to these effective policy changes to diminish the role of police and reduce harm.