Photo by Thomas Hawk via Flickr.
As protesters continue to speak out against racism in policing, the death of Black Americans at the hands of officers and the ways in which law enforcement can cause harm in communities, calls have grown to “defund the police.” The concept has a wide variety of interpretations, from budget cuts and shifting some funding to social services, as cities like Los Angeles and New York City are now considering, to abolishing the police altogether. The city of Minneapolis voted to disband their police department following the death of George Floyd.
In Detroit, some protesters who created a list of demands for Mayor Mike Duggan and Police Chief James Craig included a call to defund and demilitarize police among other reform initiatives like decriminalizing homelessness.
The concept of police abolition has roots in the Black Panthers movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and it has reappeared in recent years with the Black Lives Matter movement. What does it mean? “It’s not just about taking away money from the police, it’s about reinvesting those dollars into Black communities. Communities that have been deeply divested from, communities that, some have never felt the impact of having true resources,” Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, told WBUR.
The idea of defunding police also has plenty of detractors. In Michigan, most Democrats have kept quiet, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer walked back an earlier statement of support and Attorney General Dana Nessel shared her objections before offering recommendations for police reforms this week.
Craig noted that the city’s police department already experienced defunding before his tenure, through a 10% officer pay cut that he said didn’t go well. He told Fox News that defunding police is an “extremely flawed” proposal and counter to goals of “ensuring that police departments are providing effective and efficient policing to the community they’re serving.”
But we wanted to back up a little bit. What is there to defund — or what is the actual Detroit police budget and spending? We took a deep dive into some pretty heady documents so you don’t have to. Here’s what we found.
How much does the city of Detroit budget for its police?
For fiscal year 2019, which ended June 30, 2019, the city budgeted $321,681,648 for the Detroit Police Department. The department actually spent $316,356,479, according to the city’s four-year financial plan. Projections for the next few years would increase spending by 9.4% by 2024.
The city’s budget is a combination of local tax revenue and fees, state and federal grants and other sources. Just looking at the city’s general fund (which “contains uncommitted resources that may be used for general purposes”), we see that the DPD accounted for 29.4% of the city’s spending in fiscal year 2019.
Note: A spokeswoman for the city’s chief financial officer told the Detroit Free Press that the figures in the city’s own Comprehensive Annual Financial Report are “slightly off,” but these figures are the best breakdown available and illustrate the proportional differences between departmental general fund spending. In addition, the city’s general fund does not include some departments with significant spending on services, including transportation and water and sewage — see page 44 here.
The top categories for budgeted spending from the general fund in 2019 are: 1) Development and Management, 2) Police and 3) Debt Service. Development and Management includes administrative functions like the Mayor’s Office, Finance, Information Technology, the Clerk’s Office, Elections and Human Resources, among others.
A 2017 study by advocacy group The Center for Popular Democracy looked at police spending across 12 jurisdictions including Detroit and found that for every dollar of police spending from the city’s total budget, Detroit spends 14 cents on housing and 9 cents on health. (Though the city’s general fund spending for the health department was under $9 million in FY 2019, it’s worth noting that the health department has an unusually high proportion of grant funding — putting the department’s total spending at nearly $40 million — and that residents receive many health services through programs run by the county and state.)
How has Detroit’s police spending changed over time?
Data pulled from Munetrix, a Michigan-based municipal data analytics firm, shows DPD general fund spending has increased about 14% since 2016, after significant declines in the wake of the city’s financial crisis.
How does DPD’s police spending compare to that of other big cities?
According to a 2017 analysis conducted by the Lincoln Institute for Land Policy that compared municipal city spending across cities, Detroit had the 60th-highest spending per capita among 152 cities. The data shows Detroit spent $727 per capita in 2017, close to the average of $747 and slightly above the median of $699.
A 2016 analysis by Governing Magazine showed that the average number of police officers per 10,000 residents was 16.8 in 2016 across all jurisdictions with populations over 25,000. Detroit had 35.1 police officers per 10,000 residents in 2016, more than twice the average. According to the Detroit Free Press, the city’s total police force and number of officers per capita has “generally declined over time,” with fewer officers now than before the city’s bankruptcy.
What does DPD spend their money on?
We broke down the department’s actual expenditures for 2019. Most of the budget went toward police operations (45%), criminal investigations (18.1%), police support services (10%) and the police executive (4.7%). Smaller community outreach programs include domestic violence reduction ($306,926), victims crime assistance ($342,402), and violence prevention ($198,565). Many of those programs are grant-funded.
What could a different police budget look like?
In a Detroit Free Press op-ed this week, Chase Cantrell, attorney and executive director of the nonprofit Building Community Value, explored what it would look like not to simply defund the police — but create a budget that matches actual Detroiters’ actual priorities.
Cantrell describes outcome-oriented budgeting, a process adopted by other cities like Baltimore in which money is directed toward elements of public safety and outcomes are measured. He imagines a system in which Detroiters participate in budgeting to make sure their goals and needs shape how money is spent. That’s not too far-out of an idea — Cantrell notes that a potential pilot program for participatory budgeting is under consideration by the city… though it would not include the police department’s funding.
“The echoing call to reimagine how we define and fund public safety speaks to a deeply-rooted distrust of the police as an institution that does not have the consent of many community members, he wrote. “Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit City Council must acknowledge and respond to this earnest call for transformation by acting swiftly to create new processes that foster full resident participation in budgeting and meaningful transparency in spending.”
Kate Abbey-Lambertz contributed reporting.