America's Biggest Cities to Invest $450M More in Police Following 2020 Defund Movement

Social justice movements swept through the U.S. in 2020, and calls for defunding police came along with them. Leaders of the country's largest cities listened, and police budgets were cut in many places.

A year later, however, those budgets have inched back up, and early indications are that 2022 could see even more funding for police departments across the country.

"I think some civic leaders were surprised at the number of people who weren't really on board with that plan," Wesley Skogan said of the movement to defund police. Skogan
holds joint appointments in Northwestern University's Political Science Department and the University's Institute for Policy Research. He's also on an advisory panel for the Chicago Police Department's community policing program.

Skogan noted to Newsweek how a "huge violent crime spike" hit soon after many people called for police reform that included talk of laying off law enforcement officers. Skogan said such factors "made it a really tough political environment to talk about cutting back the number of police."

"Part of it is the crime wave and the fact that there were lots of people out there who were looking for protection," he added. "There were a lot of promises for the future...but not a lot of specifics about next week."

New York City, which has the country's largest police force and was a major site for last year's Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd's death, had a police budget of around $6 billion last year. The city went into 2021 with a significantly reduced police budget of $5.2 billion, only to vote for a $200 million increase in June after a 22 percent rise in crime in May compared to the same month a year earlier.

Chicago PD
Police budgets in many major cities increased in 2021 after defunding efforts a year earlier. In this photo, police officers attend a Chicago Police Department promotion and graduation ceremony on October 20, 2021, in Chicago, Illinois. Getty

As large as these budgets may sound to some people, those figures don't even represent the true amount spent on law enforcement. Officer pensions, benefits and settlements paid out from legal cases involving police misconduct and wrongful deaths add unseen costs. The Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), a nonpartisan organization that monitors the city's services and finances, estimates the true cost of the NYPD to be around $10 billion.

While the CBC noted a decrease in law enforcement costs in NYC from 2020 to 2021, it noted the city's adopted budget for the fiscal year 2022 is $10.4 billion, a spending increase of 4.7 percent from 2021.

Similarly, the country's second most populated city, Los Angeles, cut $150 million from its police department in 2020 only to give it a 3 percent increase (to equal $1.7 billion) in the city's current 2021-22 fiscal year budget.

The LAPD seeks even more funding for next year. The city's police commission requested a proposed budget increase of $213 million (12 percent) in November for the 2022-23 fiscal year, which still awaits final approval from the mayor and city council.

Chicago also followed the trend. Mayor Lori Lightfoot's 2021 budget cut $59 million in funding for the country's second-largest police force in the third-largest U.S. city. Her 2022 budget announced this fall would increase police spending in Chicago to $1.9 billion from 2021's $1.7 billion.

Not all cities answered the cries demanding police departments be defunded, however. The Houston City Council voted unanimously in June 2020 to give a $20 million increase for its police department in 2021. The vote happened while protestors denouncing the $964 million police budget were gathered outside of Houston City Hall. In summer 2021, the city increased the police budget by an additional $30 million for 2022.

Philadelphia, meanwhile, decreased its police budget without immediately moving to increase it in the future. Last year, the city announced a $33 million decrease for police in 2021 and devoted $19 million to new training and body cameras. This year, Philadelphia's city council voted to keep the general budget for the Philadelphia Police Department at approximately the same amount for 2022 as it was in 2021 ($727 million).

Many people may have concluded that defunding the police, as least at this time, may not be feasible in their communities.

Kevin Robinson, a retired Phoenix assistant police chief and a professor at Arizona State University's School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, told Newsweek that "we have come as a society to rely on law enforcement for everything."

"I understand both sides of the argument," Robinson said of calls for police reform and opposing voices wanting more policing. "I said what those who are calling for defunding the police should be saying is we need to reallocate portions of the police budgets to deal with social service issues that we don't want law enforcement to deal with. And law enforcement doesn't want to deal with those things."

A Pew Research Center poll in October found 47 percent of adults said spending on policing in their area should be increased, compared to 31 percent who said the same in June 2020.

This sentiment was also shown recently in Minneapolis, the city where George Floyd was killed. In November, a proposal to replace the city's police department with a Department of Public Safety was voted down.

Skogan explained how difficult it is to reduce police budgets even if the public supported such measures. "Contractual matters about who can be laid off" plays a big part in any efforts to reduce department ranks.

"Around the country, the real problem for many police departments is not having too many officers; it's not having enough. It's hard to hire, and it's hard to retain," Skogan added.

In October, Fox News reported on research from the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund (LELDF) that looked into active police memberships and activity across 10 departments in major cities from June 1, 2020, to April 30, 2021. The research showed an 18 percent increase in overall voluntary law enforcement departures. That included a 24 percent increase in voluntary resignations and a 14 percent increase in voluntary retirements.

Robinson said public disapproval in the wake of police protests resulted in many officers feeling their work wasn't met with approval. The result was a shortage in police, thus necessitating more spending to hire officers for work considered unpopular by segments of the population.

"Law enforcement managers are saying, 'You know what, I am having to do a lot more with a lot less people, and I'm going to need the budget in order to accomplish the things that you want me to accomplish and to keep citizens safe in our community,'" said Robinson.

The pandemic also dealt a heavy and costly blow to police departments.

"COVID really cut down the availability of people," Skogan said, noting the amount of exposure to the virus law enforcement officers face. "Lots of people were calling in sick, and lots of people were home because they were exposed. It really exacerbated the short-term staffing problems."

Another key factor to consider is that changes to law enforcement often also require a large increase in police budgets.

"Police reform is expensive," Skogan explained. "You got to spend money on training, and when they're training, they're not on the field. So, you got to have more officers."

Skogan also noted the money necessary to institute increased monitoring of police conduct. He said, "The real cost to a body camera is about $2,000 a cam a year. That's not cheap. Reform costs money, and that's the reality."