In Los Angeles, the county sheriff says local residents are in danger because “defunding has consequences,” even as his agency’s budget has increased by more than $ 250 million since 2019.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva isn’t alone in suggesting to voters that crime has risen because Democrats have been defining police agencies following nationwide protests following the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a police officer. Minneapolis.
Politicians, pundits and police leaders across the country are reiterating the allegation as they address crime concerns ahead of Election Day.
Yet in many communities, defunding has never happened.
ABC-owned TV stations looked at the budgets of more than 100 cities and counties and found 83% are spending at least 2% more on police in 2022 than in 2019.
Of the 109 budgets analyzed, only eight agencies cut police funding by more than 2%, while 91 agencies increased law enforcement funding by at least 2%.
In 49 cities or counties, police funding increased by more than 10%.
An “outbreak of crime”
Despite what the public ledger shows, an analysis of the broadcast transcripts shows that candidates, law enforcement leaders and TV hosts have discussed the impact of “police definancing” more than 10,000 times in the past two years, according to Internet Archive TV news transcripts dating back to June 2020 – and mentions aren’t fading during this campaign season.
“In communities across the country, like Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, so many other places, it’s this amazing, incredible, crime hotbed,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott said in a video posted on Twitter. in August by the Association of Republican Governors.
“You usually see where these crimes are taking place, there has been a de-emphasis of the role played by law enforcement. It could be the definition of law enforcement. It could be a reduction in law enforcement,” he said. Abbott.
Dr. Rashawn Ray, a sociologist and researcher at the Brookings Institution, told KABC in Los Angeles that this false narrative has persisted due to repetition by public officials.
“Overwhelmingly, cities, counties, police departments across the country are in no way defined,” Ray said. “In fact, many of them have increased their budgets. Part of the reason the ‘defund the police’ narrative has stayed around is because police officers say so and elected officials say so.”
ABC’s analysis of police budget data shows that police spending has increased in some of the same cities often cited by conservative politicians and pundits as places where Democratic defunding has fueled waves of violent crime.
The LAPD budget has increased by 9.4% since 2019. The San Francisco police budget has increased by 4% and that of Philadelphia by 3%.
In Chicago, police spending increased 15%, representing nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in new police spending since 2019.
In Houston, where the homicide rate nearly doubled in both 2020 and 2021 before starting to decline this year, local government officials have increased police spending by nearly 9% – nearly $ 80 million – since 2019 to 2022.
President Joe Biden announced this movement in his 2022 State of the Union address, saying, “The answer is not to take the police off the money. It’s to finance the police. Finance them!” – a line that aroused bipartisan applause.
Perception versus reality
Some cities have tried to reallocate police spending following concerns from defense groups in the wake of George Floyd’s protests.
In Austin, Texas, leaders cut the police budget by about 30% in 2021, instead proposing to spend that money on programs like family violence prevention, mental health rescuers, and police supervision.
But it only lasted a year. The Texas lawmaker voted to prevent cities in the state from cutting police budgets, so Austin increased police spending by 50% in 2022.
In Los Angeles County, where Sheriff Villanueva is engaged in a tough battle for re-election, he has been outspoken for months about the impact of what he describes as defining his agency, claiming that his budget has been “cannibalized.”
Yet records show that his agency’s budget increased by about 8 percent, more than $ 259 million, from 2019 to 2022.
“Although the perception may be that the defunding is underway, in fact, the sheriff’s budget has increased,” said county supervisor Kathryn Barger.
Asked by the KABC about its defunding claims, Villanueva acknowledged that its budget is higher, but not enough to cover the rising costs. He said that if daily costs grow faster than his budget, it is “direct defunding, of course”.
Barger, in response, said that cost increases impact many departments in the county and are not exclusive to the sheriff’s department.
“Play as if he’s being targeted,” said Villanueva’s Barger. “And he isn’t.”
In fact, Los Angeles County’s 2023 budget will increase the sheriff’s department budget by another quarter of a billion dollars.
An ‘impossible environment’
Some in law enforcement say that, even more than budget cuts, what really hurts police departments is anti-police rhetoric.
After Floyd’s murder in 2020, protesters in New York clashed with NYPD officials for days on end. Officers arrested hundreds of protesters every night and the department says more than 300 officers were among those injured.
Seeking accountability, some politicians have called for a $ 1 billion cut from the NYPD budget.
But the $ 1 billion cut never happened. The NYPD’s budget decreased by only 2.8%, from $ 5.6 billion in 2019 to $ 5.4 billion in 2022.
However, Police Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch said the defunding movement damaged the morale of the officers.
“More than any budget cut, the greatest damage to the ‘Defund the Police’ movement has been caused by its anti-police and anti-public safety message,” Lynch told WABC in New York. “It has created an impossible environment on the streets, where even the simplest interactions turn into confrontation.”
The result was a massive NYPD exodus. Retirements in 2020 skyrocketed 72% from the previous year, and the NYPD lost more employees during the month of August this year than the same time period in any previous year.
“As more cops leave, the workload becomes more overwhelming for those who stay,” Lynch said. “Public safety ultimately suffers.”
Being “all things for all”
Criminal justice experts say that even if the cuts were real, the premise that lower police spending leads to increased crime – or vice versa – runs counter to decades of evidence, according to public data.
An ABC analysis of state and local police funding and overall violent crime data in the United States between 1985 and 2020 found no relationship between annual police spending and crime rates. An analysis by the Washington Post found similar results from 1960 to 2018.
A further ABC analysis of Los Angeles County crime data shows that, over the past decade, the number of violent crimes has not increased or decreased in relation to the amount of money spent on law enforcement or the number of agents. on patrol.
Kimberly Dodson, a retired law enforcement officer who is now a criminologist at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, said this is because police largely respond to crime rather than discourage it.
“Crime happens. Someone calls the police and comes to get a report. So they try to solve the crime after the fact,” Dodson told KTRK in Houston. “So to say that the police discourage crime is not really accurate, because it is more of a reactive agency.”
Dodson said one of the reasons police agencies feel tense is because communities have asked them to “be everything to everyone – and it doesn’t seem fair.”
For example, Dodson said, police these days are being asked to respond to problems caused by long-standing mental health problems, family conflicts, or problems related to deep-seated poverty that has taken hold over the decades.
“We’ve always talked about, as police officers, we go out for 10 minutes and fix something wrong and put a band-aid on, something that has been wrong for 10 years – and it’s just an impossible task,” the former officer said. .
Changing this would mean changing the way emergency calls are handled, Ray says.
The Brookings Institution senior researcher is looking for ways to narrow the police mission so that it only handles crime and security, allowing for the reallocation of government resources so that issues that don’t require police intervention can be handled by other.
“Are there better ways to think about service calls, whether it’s mental health responses, or whether it’s different types of traffic agents handling those particular issues?” He said.
Such a deal could provide the police with even more time to focus on solving crimes and protecting people.
“It might actually free them,” Ray said.
John Kelly, Mark Nichols, Maia Rosenfeld, Lindsey Feingold, Nick Natario, Maggie Green, Lisa Bartley, Carlos Granda, Jared Kofsky and Tonya Simpson of ABC contributed to this report.