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Cities Start To Refund The Police

Some cities that came under pressure to slash law enforcement funding last year are quietly considering adding money back to their police department budgets as crime increases nationwide.

“Defund the police” became a rallying cry among activists in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd — but in 2021, the movement has become politically toxic, with polls revealing low public support for the idea and violence growing in most U.S. cities.

City leaders who once embraced the idea of reducing law enforcement budgets are now considering padding them with more resources next fiscal year to address concerns such as officer shortfalls, crime statistics, and shifting public opinion.

In Portland, Oregon, Democratic Mayor Ted Wheeler said last week that he would work with Portland Police Bureau leadership on a plan to put resources behind attracting more officers to its shrinking force.

The bureau was operating with 67 fewer sworn police personnel than authorized in 2020, according to a report police leaders presented to the city council last week. Portland’s police chief told city officials his force needs to hire hundreds of additional officers to meet the demands of a city with rising crime.

City councilors moved to slash $15 million from the police bureau’s budget last year.

In Seattle, violence has proliferated in the months since the city council voted to cut funding from its police department in 2020.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced in late July she planned to ask city council members to free up $7.5 million in the police budget that had been frozen so law enforcement leaders could hire more officers to address a staffing shortfall.

Several Seattle police officers have left the force over the past year, causing response times to 911 calls to skyrocket, according to reports reviewed by the city council at a meeting earlier this month.

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Hundreds of police officers have left the force for other agencies or industries amid a morale crisis and budget cuts. In response to calls from activists, the city moved to cut nearly a fifth of the police budget heading into this year.

Earlier this month, Chicago Mayor, Lori Lightfoot, said she intends to put forward a budget plan for the next fiscal year to increase funding for the city’s police department after weathering weeks of criticism over rising crime and the high-profile murder of a female police officer.

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Since 2019, murders in Chicago have climbed 60%, according to Chicago Police Department data.

Lightfoot said at a press conference on Aug. 11 that her forthcoming proposal to increase police funding would be designed to “recruit the next generation of police officers.”

But Lightfoot struck a different tone on police hiring when she proposed her budget last year. Her proposal called on the Chicago Police Department to shed millions of dollars by not filling vacant positions within the organization.

In Chicago, law enforcement officials began raising the alarm last year about a surge in police officer departures and early retirements, which they warned could ultimately lead to staffing shortages.

In Atlanta, the city council voted in June to boost the city’s police department budget by 7%.

That came after activists called on Atlanta to cut the budget and divert the money to other avenues they said could address the root causes of crime, as left-leaning groups across the country have done since last year.

The political toll of the “defund the police” movement has pushed many national Democrats to distance themselves from the idea.

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President Joe Biden earlier this year explicitly advocated for pouring more funds into local police departments as crime spikes generated negative headlines for his party.

In New York City, the victory of a tough-on-crime Democrat in a crowded primary field that included progressives who supported defunding police was widely interpreted as a signal that even Democratic primary voters are more concerned with public safety than with the social and racial concerns that drove the defund movement in the first place.

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