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The fallout from the ‘defund’ movement

As many experts predicted, we have seen a rise in violent crime accompanied by an increase in officer retirements and resignations


In several cities that defunded law enforcement agencies by millions of dollars, that strategy has been reversed, due to rising crime rates and complaints from communities most hard hit by crime.

AP Photo/John Minchillo, File

As one of my heroes, Gordon Graham, says, “Predictable is preventable.” That is surely the case when it comes to the “ready, fire, aim” approach (act first, think after) of the “defund the police” movement.

As many law enforcement experts predicted, we have seen a rise in violence in several cities across America, both large and small. The fall-out from the defunding rhetoric, in both words and deeds, not only impacted crime rates, but also caused an increase in attrition from early retirements, lateral transfers to other agencies, or officers simply quitting due to low morale.

Looking back on my article from a year ago, my main predictions were modest:

“Threats to reduce funding will not be significant to actual deployment of field officers.”

I predicted that the threats to reduce funding and resources for police would have little impact on day-to-day operations and was little more than “saber-rattling.” Well, I was certainly wrong about that.

The domino effect has caused agencies to scramble to put as many officers as possible on the front lines to respond to rising violent crime. This has left fewer investigators to follow up with investigations and lower customer satisfaction. It also left fewer officers on the street to handle lower, yet still important, calls for service to keep smoldering problems from becoming raging firestorms. Politicians and elected officials have seen the negative impact, and many are beginning to revisit their foray into their social experiments.

In the news: Texas governor vows to sign bill that would make it harder to defund police

Reduction in “social problems policing”

This was a prediction that was and continues to be accurate in that many large cities with financial resources are looking for alternatives to law enforcement responding to issues surrounding mental illness, homelessness and drug abuse.

While the CAHOOTS program in Oregon has been held as the sterling example of mental health outreach programs, creating new teams to deal with the issues of mental health, homelessness, and alcohol and drug addictions remains a challenge. Some cities have tried to create civilian teams with EMS and firefighters responding with social workers. The struggle has been to create, train and deploy enough teams to deal with the number of calls for service in those categories.

With more than an estimated 18,000 documented calls for service for these types of issues, the San Francisco teams still can only respond to less than 20% of calls currently. Reports indicate one call can take one to four hours to assess, address and move an individual to services. People may now understand the volume of calls for service dedicated to these issues that should not have been relegated to the police in the first place.

Still, more can be done to relieve law enforcement officers from duties better suited for EMS providers, mental health clinicians and public health and public works departments.

In the news: What officers and the public are thinking about mental health crisis response

“Police as firefighters”

In the sense that police will only respond to calls in their most volatile and advanced state of decay, this has seemed to become a reality.

In many cities and towns, law enforcement agencies have had to prioritize the types of calls that required immediate, urgent and low-level responses. Certainly, some calls for service may be delayed without consequence, but we may see the impact further down the road in the form of under-reporting of crime, increased violent and property crime, and even vigilantism. The impact on business has been felt, not only due to the impact from COVID-19 regulations but also from de-criminalized property crime laws and mass early releases of those previously incarcerated.

In the news: Minneapolis to bring in outside help to deal with surge in violence

Relief in sight

In several cities that defunded law enforcement agencies by millions of dollars, that strategy has been reversed, due to rising crime rates and complaints from communities most hard hit by crime.

Cities like Portland, Oregon, Los Angeles, California, Baltimore, Maryland, Minneapolis, Minnesota and Chicago, Illinois serve as cautionary tales of the failed strategies to reduce police. Some cities have re-funded their departments to pre-defunding levels, while some actually increased the budgets.

As the forewarned social experiment plays out, the benefits may be realized in the forms of new recruitment efforts and with systems created and being put in place to deal with issues that may allow law enforcement to concentrate on issues of crime, rather than social services.

In the news: Most Portland residents want police presence maintained or increased


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James Dudley is a 32-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department where he retired as deputy chief of the Patrol Bureau. He has served as the DC of Special Operations and Liaison to the Department of Emergency Management where he served as Event and Incident Commander for a variety of incidents, operations and emergencies. He has a Master’s degree in Criminology and Social Ecology from the University of California at Irvine. He is currently a member of the Criminal Justice faculty at San Francisco State University, consults on organizational assessments for LE agencies and hosts the Policing Matters podcast for Police1.