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COVID-19, ‘De-funding’ Combine to Slash Police Budgets

Facing both the coronavirus pandemic and the movement to “defund the police,” law enforcement agencies are bracing for budget reductions not seen in more than a decade, USA Today reports. Nearly half of 258 agencies surveyed this month say funding has already been slashed or is expected to be reduced, says the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). Much funding is being pulled from equipment, hiring and training accounts, even as some cities face abrupt spikes in violent crime. Few agencies, regardless of size, are being spared. Deep reductions have been ordered or proposed in Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Baltimore County, Md., Tempe, Az., and Eureka, Ca. PERF’s Chuck Wexler said police have not confronted such a threat since the financial crisis of 2008, when operations and force numbers dropped dramatically to account for the steep decline in public funds.

Wexler said, “It’s a combustible mixture for police departments, because reform is often achieved by hiring a next generation of officers and acquiring new technology that can assist their work. The unintended consequence of these times is that those reforms will now be held back.” Scott Roberts of the civil rights advocacy group Color of Change said, “The lack of imagination in public safety has only led to continuing down the same path to investing in more law enforcement.” The nation’s largest police force, that of New York City, is cutting $1 billion, canceling a 1,200-person recruit class, curtailing overtime, and ending school safety deployments and homeless outreach. Los Angeles cut its police budget by $150 million. Seattle has proposed a 50 percent reduction to a department that has struggled to contain protests after George Floyd’s death. Steamboat Springs, a Colorado ski-resort town, is cutting its police budget by 28 percent. Vacant positions will go unfilled and civilian employees are taking a 10 percent pay cut, Police Chief Cory Christensen said.