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What’s the difference? Defunding vs. reforming law enforcement

If you’ve been even remotely alive on social media, you’ve probably seen these two phrases: reforming law enforcement and defunding law enforcement.

Here’s a quick guide to understanding what exactly each term means and what it entails.

Reforming law enforcement

Reforming is the stuff that’s kinda been happening. It’s about increasing the budget, instilling more rules such as body cams, anti-bias training, etc.

If you’ve heard of the ZeroCampaign, 8cantwait, then you’ve already heard of reforming. The 8cantwait campaign includes banning chokeholds, requiring de-escalation, and the duty to intervene.

Now, while all of these things should be instituted, the question of, “Is it enough? lingers. The city of Los Angeles meets five of these eight requirements.


That Los Angeles.

Human Rights Watch slammed 8cantwait, stating it proposes “minor and ineffectual changes.” Some of this is due to the fact that most of these changes are still under the same discretion as they were before.

The campaign promises that enacting all eight of these changes can eliminate police brutality by 72 percent.

Overall, reform is about keeping the current situation and adding to it in order to affect change. This also includes the idea of community policing, a tactic in which police are closer-knit to the community in which they, well, police.

Defunding law enforcement

The simple answer for defunding is exactly that—to take money away from the police funds. But before you start angrily writing letters, consider this: the operating budget for the NYPD is 5.6 billion dollars.

(Note that this does not include the overall funds NYC allocated to the PD, but a portion specifically for the operating budget. You can read more about it here.)

The argument here is that the money could be better spent in other sectors, such as housing and education. Defunding means removing money and putting it in areas that could help people avoid poverty and crime.

It also means re-investing those funds into marginalized communities via social services, hospitals, markets, etc. This way, there is less reliance and dependency on the police.

If policing continues as is, defunding is a way of combating the systemic racism that the current institution holds. One response to this argument has been about sexual violence. If police are not around to solve these cases and bring justice, then who will?

And yet…

It doesn’t quite look like…

No, it doesn’t look like that is the case here, at least according to experiences of the public.

Perhaps community members, such as social workers or mental health groups, would be better equipped to help survivors.

Abolish…and disband?

Defunding can also be coupled with abolishing the police altogether, although the two are separate. Abolishing the police altogether suggests instead strengthening and calling upon other first-responders for situations.

For example, having social workers and other members in the community itself handle some issues like overdoses, instead of cops.

Abolition is about decriminalizing and finding a new way altogether to help these communities.

Minneapolis has recently announced their plans to do just this via dismantling its police department completely. While there are no definitive announcements of what will take its place, it is a start.