"Defund the Police" Is a Trojan Horse for New Welfare Spending | Opinion

The last two weeks broadcasted the results of cops being chased from their positions, precincts alight and anarchy in the streets. If you want a preview of what would happen if police departments were dismantled, turn on the television. "Defund the police" began as a demand by radical left-wingers, but quickly became the new mantra du jour of mainstream Democrats. But make no mistake: Most large cities will not do away with their own police departments. Instead, left-leaning officials will use calls to "defund the police" as a means to balloon the size of ineffective government programs.

The first clue that "defund the police" has little to do with actually dismantling police departments is the transition from the word "defund" to vague promises of law enforcement spending reductions. Rather than endorse sweeping cuts to core police expenditures, politicians like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talk about using bills instead to "shuffle" money around.

The continued obfuscation of phrases is purposeful: Such calls are not for true police reform, but rather represent an opening for a return of Great Society-era social programs that devastated cities. Democrats reveal their ambitions when asked to elaborate beyond vapid slogans. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer told The Root that she supports the "spirit" of defunding the police, then turned around and said the quiet part out loud. From local coverage, the governor quickly dissembled that what she actually supports is "rebuilding communities in a just and equitable manner to level the playing field, though not necessarily at the expense of police departments." Kamala Harris captured a similar spirit on The View, when she refused to be specific about downsizing police departments and instead delivered a word salad about increasing funding for "affordable housing...social services...job training...[and] helping with mental health issues that communities are being plagued with." When officials talk this way, it's almost always a lead-in to grow spending on bloated programs that often do more harm than good.

Cities are already heeding the call. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a "transformative" move to strip police funding in favor of welfare spending, an overhaul of street vendor enforcement and the creation of new "ambassadors" to serve between the police and communities. In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti canceled the planned $650 million increase in the LAPD's budget and replaced it with a $100 million to $500 million cut. Rather than return the funds to taxpayers, Garcetti said it would be spent on a variety of government initiatives.

The signal is clear—there will be a two-stage change in many city budgets, enabled by the ongoing protests and their aftermath. First will be reductions in police funding and budget transfers to city administrators to oversee the expansion of social programs. Second will be a push for higher taxes to further expand such efforts.

Anti-police protesters in New York City
Anti-police protesters in New York City Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images

Seeing blood in the water, unions and politicians are already angling for control and increased funding. United Teachers of Los Angeles wants an end to police presence in schools to pay for more unionized employees and administrators. Similar demands are being advanced in Chicago and New York City. Groups in Boston, including the Youth Justice and Power Union and the Muslim Justice league, are calling for at least a 10 percent slash in the police budget and increased funding for "coronavirus relief, public health, housing, education and youth jobs." The mayor of Lansing, Michigan vaguely called for a down payment on a $100,000 budget transfer away from the police department to "allow agencies within our city to utilize these dollars to make change."

Of course, there are targeted steps that cities and states can take to lift up communities. But underserved families will not benefit from increased funding to agencies and public initiatives that already consistently fail. Take New York City's mismanaged public education system, which boasts 140 schools that have a 90 percent state exam failure rate, despite significant funding hikes over the last several decades; last year the city spent more than $25,000 per pupil, compared to just $12,000 nationwide. Or the city's Housing Authority, which funnels money to armies of administrators yet was derided by a federal monitor for failing to meet basic needs for residents in public housing. Or consider programs in Chicago that disincentivize people from working via welfare programs that pay more than do many hourly jobs.

There is clearly a discussion to be had about meaningful reforms to criminal justice and law enforcement. As a society, we should also never give up on working to strengthen the schools and the vitality of urban communities. However, defunding the police in favor of inept bureaucracies and programs will not fix the crime, failing public schools or poverty plaguing the nation's large cities. Implementing effective solutions—such as opportunity zones, charter schools and community policing—will require officials to put partisanship aside.

We've been here before. In the 1960s and 1970s, New York dramatically increased spending and got higher crime, collapsing real estate values and a flirt with bankruptcy in less than a decade. We should be keeping one eye on activists and the other on history in order to see where current left-wing demands to "defund the police" and balloon government spending will likely take us.

Kristin Tate is an author and an analyst for Young Americans for Liberty. She is a Robert Novak fellow at The Fund for American Studies. Her latest book is The Liberal Invasion of Red State America.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.