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Report Examining 12 City, County Budgets Reveals Heavy Spending On Policing

U.S. jurisdictions spend on policing while neglecting infrastructure, social programs


NATIONWIDE - The Center for Popular Democracy, Law for Black Lives, and Black Youth Project 100 on Wednesday released a report examining the budgets of 12 city and county governments that reveals the extent to which local jurisdictions pour money into policing and incarceration, at the expense of community safety priorities such as infrastructure and social safety net programs.

The report, Freedom to Thrive: Reimagining Safety & Security in Our Communities, shows how cities and counties continue to rely overwhelmingly on policing and incarceration spending, while under-resourcing less damaging, more fair, and more effective safety initiatives. This is a trend that has accelerated over the last 30 years.

Budgets reflect the spending priorities and types of investments an institution deems to be sensible, practical, and effective. The 12 jurisdictions profiled are Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Contra Costa County, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York City, Oakland, Orlando, and St. Louis County.

Budgets are also moral documents. They are an articulation of what—and whom—our cities, counties, states, and country deem worthy of investment.

Each profile also highlights current or prospective campaigns that seek to divest resources away from police and prisons towards communities and their development. Consistent community safety priorities emerged across jurisdictions. Most notable among them are demands for mental health services, youth programming, and infrastructure such as transit access and housing.

Among the jurisdictions profiled, police spending vastly outpaces expenditures in vital community resources and services, with the highest percentage being 41 percent of general fund expenditures in Oakland. Among cities profiled, per capita police spending is highest in Baltimore at $772 per resident.

Jennifer Epps-Addison, Network President and Co-Executive Director at Center for Popular Democracy, released the following statement:

"The over-policing and mass criminalization of Black people is the moral crisis of our time. Local governments are fueling this crisis through each and every budget they pass. Budgets are moral documents that reflect the values and priorities of our government, yet for communities of color, local budgets have too often come to represent their further oppression. In the wake of constant stories of police brutality and state violence, or news of departmental corruption and malfeasence, it is past time for us to start reimagining what safety means, how it is being resourced, and who is defining it. This report gives voice to the communities rising up courageously to fight for control and ownership of their own peoples' safety and security."

Marbre Stahly-Butts, Co-Director of Law for Black Lives, released the following statement:

"This report articulates what community groups and community members have been saying for decades -- we need more investment in healthcare, housing and employment opportunities and less investment in unaccountable police departments and overcrowded jails. The decision of local, state and federal officials to pour trillions of dollars into more police, more guns and more jail cells and to divest from health care, housing and employment opportunities is a moral choice that devalues Black and brown communities and do not make us safer. Black Lives matter is not just a slogan. It is a call to action to local, state and federal officials to change their budget priorities and listen to communities about what makes them safe and strong."

Janaé Bonsu, National Policy Chair at Black Youth Initiative 100, released the following statement:

“This report highlights some of the grassroots resistance of activists and organizers against the ways that governments consistently invest in punishment over people. Police departments are getting body cameras and Tasers while schools are being closed; more officers are getting hired while teachers are getting laid off. If communities had the self-determination over budgets to reallocate funds from police and prisons to housing, jobs, health care, education, and transformative justice models, we'd truly have the freedom to thrive.”


The Center for Popular Democracy promotes equity, opportunity, and a dynamic democracy in partnership with innovative base-building organizations, organizing networks and alliances, and progressive unions across the country. CPD builds the strength and capacity of democratic organizations to envision and advance a pro-worker, pro-immigrant, racial justice agenda


Anita Jain, ajain@populardemocracy.org, 347-636-9761