Over my 20 years of working on DC budget issues, I’ve watched the police department’s funding grow year after year at the expense of investments in families and communities.
Now, in this extraordinary moment, DC leaders must reckon with the enormous amount of money we invest in policing our residents.
A budget is a moral document, and our police budget says troubling things about our priorities:
- The proposed Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) budget for 2021 — $540 million — is twice as much as our affordable housing budget — $269 million.
- The MPD budget is 80 times the budget for the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, the agency charged with addressing public safety as a public health issue.
- The mayor’s proposed budget cuts funding for violence interruption services while adding to the MPD budget.
DC will decide its annual budget in the next few weeks, and we must take immediate action to lay the groundwork for a fairer, more humane, long-term approach to public safety.
For me, “defund the police” is about divesting and reinvesting in services that support stable communities in positive ways, such as violence interruption, mental health services, youth supports, housing, and jobs.
Here’s a place to start with the Fiscal Year 2021 budget being debated right now:
- Stop the proposed $19 million MPD increase.
- Restore budget cuts to violence interruption services.
- Invest in Black and brown communities by canceling proposed cuts to affordable housing, address the digital divide facing DC students in the pandemic, and expand school mental health services.
These budget steps should be combined with police reforms, like requiring the quick release of body camera footage in police fatalities and increasing the powers of the Office of Police Complaints.
In the longer term, we must reimagine what it takes to create stable and safe communities. I was honored to contribute last year to the DC-commissioned Jails and Justice Task Force, which called for investing in basic needs, recognizing and addressing trauma in Black and brown communities, focusing on community-based mediation and violence interruption, addressing mass incarceration, supporting returning citizens, and more.
That’s the path I’m committed to taking.