Experts say 'defund the police' may be used as political pawn, but are budgets actually being cut?

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Wednesday, October 19, 2022
Are cities actually defunding the police? Here's what data shows
What cities are defunding the police? Experts say politicians use the term to attack their opponents as the 2022 midterm elections near.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- This election season, many politicians are using the term, "defund the police," but a review of data shows very few places nationwide, and in southeast Texas, are actually doing that.

'It's so bad': Crime is a big issue for voters ahead of the Midterms

Johnnie Green Jr. has lived in the same area for more than 70 years.

"I was born and raised in Sunnyside," Green said. "I never lived no place other than Sunnyside."

It's a place that has changed more than the paint on Green's house.

Green said there aren't as many vacant lots as there once were. The biggest difference though is the amount of flashing lights in his neighborhood.

"Crime has gone off the charts. It's so bad," Green said.

Data from the ABC13 neighborhood safety tracker shows the murder rate where Green lives is one of the highest in the city. To cut crime, Green believes there's one answer.

"We need police officers, and they need to be paid fair because I wouldn't want to be a police officer," Green said. "That's a dangerous job."

'Defund the police' is phrase used a lot ahead of the 2022 election, but are governments actually doing it?

The idea of paying police has taken center stage. After the murder of Houston native George Floyd, there's been a lot of discussion about defunding the police, but numbers from ABC13 data team show not many have done it.

In an analysis of more than 100 city and county budgets across the country, about 90% allotted more or the same amount of money for law enforcement agencies in 2022 compared to three years ago.

In Harris County, the sheriff's and constable's offices' budgets saw an increase of 15%. In Houston, the police department's budget went from $900 million four years ago to nearly $1 billion in 2022.

Now, just because more money is spent, it doesn't mean crime is down. Houston's homicide numbers are lower compared to 2021, however data shows about nine people are being killed every week. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was five.

If local governments aren't defunding police, why is violent crime on the rise?

Dr. Kimberly Dodson, a criminology associate professor at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, has studied the impact of defunding the police. She said part of the problem with focusing on police budgets is that law enforcement's role is reactionary.

"They're not really thinking about addressing those root issues," Dodson explained. "If they were, you wouldn't see a small budget like city planning and health and human services. Those all fall at the bottom of the list."

Governments may not be able to move around police funds to other agencies because of recent Texas state law

There may be a reason why the city's police budget is growing, but others aren't, and that's because state lawmakers won't let them reallocate funds.

Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, said that as national calls to defund the police took place, states Republicans took action and passed House Bill 9.

"The Republican legislature did it as political theater as a way to go after Democratic city and counties," Jones explained.

In 2021, the legislature passed a bill that penalizes large cities in Texas that lower police budgets.

"Outside of the city of Austin, there was no law to prevent localities to defunding the police because they weren't going to do so," Jones said.

Corpus Christi is one place spending less on policing. Four years ago, the police budget made up 8.4% of the city's budget. Right now, it's only 7.4%.

During the first half of 2022, there were 21 homicides. In 2021, it was only 10. Overall, violent crime is down by 5%.

Dodson said defunding has been a mixed bag. In some places, it's made crime worse, but in others, that prioritize funding in other agencies, Dodson said it's worked.

"Actually, had social workers who went through their police academy, and they graduated with the policing class, and they are a part of an office of crime prevention," Dodson explained.

View your live neighborhood safety tracker by the ABC13 Data Team.

Defunding the police is taking its toll on law enforcement, but not because of a lack of funding

Dodson said many places aren't defunding, but the use of the word has had an impact on law enforcement. With both sides of the aisle using it this political season, it's caused fewer people to enter policing.

"It's made the policing job more difficult because police officers and law enforcement officers across the United States are feeling unappreciated," Dodson said.

It's an underappreciation some Houston residents don't understand.

"Boy, we need policemen," Green said. "Anything you do, you have some bad, and some good. Don't ever think you get all good."

After seeing a lot living in the same place, Green would like very soon to see fewer flashing lights in the place he's called home for years.

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