Advancing Reform: SJC Sites Make Significant Changes to Law Enforcement and Behavioral Health Services Funding

By: Ashley Krider

Community Engagement Featured Jurisdictions Policing November 2, 2020

Prompted by recent cries for police reform across the U.S., many jurisdictions have made or promised significant changes to law enforcement funding, frequently allocating additional funding to behavioral health and community services. Many sites are exploring or expanding community-based emergency first response as an alternative to police response to individuals experiencing crisis and those with mental health needs.

As technical assistance providers to the Safety and Justice Challenge, Policy Research, Inc. (PRI) has compiled an ongoing list of examples of this shift across the country, to serve as a resource to other communities who may be considering their own reform.

Here are some examples of changes in SJC sites:

  • Baltimore, Maryland: In June, the City Council approved a $22.4 million (less than 5%) cut to the Police Department’s $550 million 2021 budget, including nearly $7 million from overtime spending.
  • Portland, Oregon: In late 2019, the city announced a similar program to CAHOOTS, Portland Street Response (PSR), which takes police off of low-priority 9-1-1 calls and instead sends a new branch of first responders, trained in behavioral health, to address issues related to people experiencing homelessness or mental health crises. In June, the Portland City Council approved $4.8 million funding for PSR, along with a 3% reduction (about $15 million) to the Portland Police Bureau budget.
  • Los Angeles, California: In June, the Los Angeles City Council voted to cut $150 million (of an $1.8 billion total budget) from the city’s police department budget, halting a planned increase in funding. The $150 million will be redirected toward community-building projects and health and education initiatives in minority communities. ­In July, the city council announced plans to expand a pilot program to create a new police bureau focused on community policing, relying on guidance from community leaders, representatives from city hall, and others.
  • New York City, New York: In July, the New York City Council approved shifting roughly $1 billion away from the $6 billion annual Police Department budget. The budget also shifts school safety and homeless outreach away from police. New York City’s Crisis Management System (CMS) program deploys teams of credible messengers who mediate conflicts on the street and connect high-risk individuals to services that can reduce the long-term risk of violence. In the last three years, the Crisis Management System has contributed to a 15% decline in shootings in the 17 highest violence precincts in New York City. In early June, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he plans to increase CMS spending by ten million dollars, hire additional workers, and expand programs to Soundview, Jamaica, Crown Heights, Flatbush, and Canarsie.
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico: In June, the Mayor announced the formation of a new department, Albuquerque Community Safety, designed to relieve stress on the city’s police. Instead of the police or fire departments responding to 9-1-1 calls related to homelessness, addiction, and mental health, the new division will deploy unarmed personnel made up of social workers, housing and homelessness specialists, and violence prevention coordinators. Mayor Keller stated that the department’s creation will start with a focus on “restructuring and reallocating resources” that the city is already investing in different areas, saying he anticipated “tens of millions of dollars that will move” with the department’s creation.
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: In June, the City Council approved a 2021 fiscal year budget that reduced police department funding by $33 million and allocated $45 million into affordable housing, arts funding, and social services addressing poverty.
  • San Francisco, California: In July, the Mayor announced a $120 million cut from the city police and sheriff’s departments over the next two years, redirecting funding toward addressing disparities in the Black community including in housing, mental health and wellness, workforce development, economic justice, education, advocacy, and accountability.
  • Durham, North Carolina: In June 2019, the city council voted against hiring 18 new patrol officers after a public campaign led by Durham Beyond Policing. The city is now exploring a new “community safety and wellness task force” instead. While the city’s 2021 budget did include an increase of $1.2 million for the police department, $1 million was also added for a Community Health and Safety Task Force to “potentially take on some of the responsibilities of policing the city over time.”

Many jurisdictions around the country are also taking a hard look at the wisdom of continuing to place police in schools. Several SJC sites that have pledged to remove or removed police from schools include:

  • Portland, Oregon: In June, the Portland Public Schools superintendent announced that it will discontinue the regular presence of SROs. New investments in counselors, social workers, and culturally specific partners were proposed.
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin: The Board of School Directors voted unanimously in June to terminate its contract with the Milwaukee Police Department in its public schools.
  • Madison, Wisconsin: The school board voted unanimously in June to end its contract with the Madison Police Department for SROs.
  • Portland, Maine: The school board voted in July to remove SROs from Deering and Portland High School. Money previously allocated for SROs will be diverted toward programs like “supporting security at large events and de-escalation training for staff.”

COVID-19 and the nationwide racial equity and justice protests over the past few months have shifted the ground beneath much of the advocacy and work that we do. We are faced with an opportunity and responsibility to not only respond to the changing landscape of criminal justice and behavioral health fields, but to advance reform.

—Ashley Krider is a Senior Project Associate at Policy Research, Inc.