Cutting police department funding has happened in varying amounts across the country since the protests following George Floyd’s death last year.
Some lawmakers are now considering ways to prevent this. For example, a bill in North Carolina would cut state funding to cities if they cut funding for law enforcement.
But we’re also seeing what’s happening in one city that has seen some of the biggest police budget cuts in the nation.
Most cities that made cuts to their police budgets did it by 3% to 15%.
Austin, Texas, cut their police budget by 35%, around $150 million. They’re already spending that money on other programs, including buying two hotels with plans to convert them for the homeless.
“It created an opportunity for us to move the dollars that so often are used to police homelessness to throw people in jail for a night and then to send them back onto the streets to take those same dollars, and use them to actually operate the hotels,” said Democratic Councilman Greg Casar with the City of Austin.
It will take about $6.5 million a year to operate those hotels. The program is similar to one in Los Angeles hat has housed about 3,500 chronically homeless people. Like L.A.’s program, Austin plans to provide a case manager and other social services for those living in the hotels.
“What it suggests is we’re already as a society, paying a lot of money to provide services to people experiencing homelessness, and the provision of permanent supportive housing may actually be a more effective use of those funds,” said Sarah Hunter, Senior Behavioral Scientist at the Rand Corporation, a nonprofit.
Hunter evaluated the L.A. program and found for every $1 the city’s health department spent on this program, it saved a $1.20. That’s because there were fewer expensive trips to the emergency room and long-term hospital stays.
Texas’ governor has threatened to remove Austin police from the city’s control, freeze property tax revenues, and bring in federal law enforcement because of the police budget cuts. He says it’s about public safety.
Austin did see an increase in homicides from 2019 to 2020. But other large cities in the state that increased their police budgets have also seen similar increases.
President Joe Biden’s attorney general nominee, Merrick Garland, faced questions this week about whether the administration supports the “defund the police” movement. He said no, but that funding should be used in alternative ways, so mental health professionals can step in when officers encounter someone mentally ill or suicidal.