Posted on October 15, 2021

A Year After ‘Defund,’ Police Departments Get Their Money Back

J. David Goodman, New York Times, October 10, 2021

The demonstrators came at night, chanting and blowing whistles outside the home of Mayor Eric Johnson, protesting in occasionally personal terms his staunch refusal to cut funding to the Dallas Police Department.

“Defund! Reclaim! Reinvest!” about two dozen people called out from the darkened Dallas street. A few weeks later, the police chief resigned over her handling of large-scale protests. Then the City Council voted to cut how much money the department could use on overtime and hiring new officers.

That was last year.

This year has been very different.

In cities across America, police departments are getting their money back. From New York to Los Angeles, departments that saw their funding targeted amid nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd last year have watched as local leaders voted for increases in police spending, with an additional $200 million allocated to the New York Police Department and a 3 percent boost given to the Los Angeles force.

The abrupt reversals have come in response to rising levels of crime in major cities last year, the exodus of officers from departments large and small and political pressures. After slashing police spending last year, Austin restored the department’s budget and raised it to new heights. In Burlington, Vt., the city that Senator Bernie Sanders once led as mayor went from cutting its police budget to approving $10,000 bonuses for officers to stay on the job.

But perhaps nowhere has the contrast been as stark as in Dallas, where Mr. Johnson not only proposed to restore money to the department but moved to increase the number of officers on the street, writing over the summer that “Dallas needs more police officers.”

“Dallas stands out for the amount of investment that the local government is putting into the department,” said Laura Cooper, the executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association.

After the mayor proposed increasing funding, no protests followed. When the Council backed a budget that restored many of the cuts made last year, few came to the public hearing, and even fewer spoke against the plan, which included the hiring of 250 officers. It passed with little fanfare last month.

In prioritizing public safety, Mr. Johnson, a Democrat, had drawn a connection between his approach and that of other Black leaders, like Eric Adams, the Democratic mayoral nominee in New York, who see the police as a necessary part of helping neighborhoods racked by crime. And he has drawn on his experience growing up in Black neighborhoods of Dallas.

“As an African American male who came of age in the 1990s, I remember a lot of people whose lives were devastated by violence,” Mr. Johnson said during an interview in Dallas City Hall. “I don’t want to go back there.”

To combat a rise in violent crime last year — with homicides up 25 percent to 252, the highest point in two decades — Dallas has embarked on an old-school approach: “hot spot” policing. The strategy, which relies on the idea that a small number of places contain a large amount of a city’s crime, has been tried and tested around the country for decades. Criminologists have found that it works to reduce crime in the areas identified as problematic.

So far in Dallas, the number of recorded homicides has declined slightly, and overall violent crime is down about 6 percent from this time last year. {snip}

“Hot spot policing is a polarizing subject, particularly in communities of color,” said Chief Eddie Garcia, who took over the Dallas department this year and developed the hot spot plan with outside researchers. “Nothing was working — we’re on to something that seems to be working.”


The question of policing in Dallas has been fraught for years. The size of the force dropped precipitously in 2016 — to roughly 3,100 officers from about 3,600, after hundreds of officers left the ranks — mostly over a pension issue, officials said. That same year, five officers were killed by a heavily armed sniper who targeted white officers during protests over the killing of Black men by police.

At the same time, recent fatal killings by Dallas police officers have strained relations with the community. The department’s headquarters sit on Botham Jean Boulevard, renamed earlier this year for the Black Dallas man who was shot and killed in his home in 2018 by an off-duty Dallas police officer, Amber Guyger {snip}


“Last year, there was a lot of movement,” said Dominique Alexander, the president of Next Generation Action Network, a civil rights organization based in Dallas. “With this new police chief, that is gone.”


He said that he decided his group would not protest the mayor’s plan to increase police funding this year because he had given up on the local political system. Instead, Mr. Alexander said, he was preparing to make a complaint about policing in Dallas to the U.S. Department of Justice.