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Advocates Push To "Defund The Police" While Officials Call For Reforms

Demonstrators hold up signs calling for defunding police in Columbus.
Dan Konik
Demonstrators hold up signs calling for defunding police in Columbus.

The movement that began with demonstrators protesting the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other black people killed by police is starting to shape a policy debate over the future of law enforcement. There are leaders calling for reforms, advocates calling to "defund the police," and others wanting more discussion on the issue.

After four Minneapolis police officers were charged with the death of George Floyd, a veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis city council pledged to dismantle its police force and come up with a new system of community safety. The call to "defund the police" might be a new concept to some, but has been the focal point to many activists for years.

Arianna Nasan is part of the community collective known as MPD 150 in Minneapolis. Nasan says defunding the police is taking money out of police departments and making communities safe by rethinking how those public funds are spent.

"The point of that is to have that money go back into our communities. We have an unbelievably inflated police budget, most major cities do. And we have severely underfunded schools and we have a major housing crisis," Nasan says.

MPD 150 eventually wants to see the Minneapolis police department to completely go away, replaced by a new system with crisis-trained professionals taking that place.

But Nasan says the call to “defund the police” can take different forms and can look different in any given community.

In Ohio, Mia Santiago’s group Columbus Freedom Coalition has multiple prongs for changing communities, which includes abolishing prisons and defunding the police.

"The more funding they have, the more militarized they become. The more weapons they buy. The more cops they hire despite the fact that it shows that having more cops is not helpful to communities. So defunding means decreasing their size and decreasing their reach," Santiago says.

While Santiago's group wants to completely defund the police, there are other demonstrators who believe police can still play a role, while more money is diverted to other programs.

Columbus City Councilmember Shayla Favor says what Minneapolis leaders are moving toward is the decision for that city, but says she wants Columbus to consider other options.

"What I am calling for is an openness to put things on the table that we thought were not even possible two or three weeks ago. I think everything is possible at this point. I just don't know what that looks like, I'm open to having those hard conversations with our police as well as with our residents to figure out what that looks like," Favor says.

Republican state leaders have used much stronger language is shutting down any notion of defunding the police, including Gov. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), who called the idea "absurd."

"They protect our lives and if something happens we want to be able to call the police. It doesn't mean we don't make changes, doesn't mean we don't do reforms, we constantly have to work on this. There are real problems out there and these are things we need to work on," says DeWine.

This can be where the tension lies between community advocates and government officials; defunding versus reform.

Rep. Phil Plummer (R-Dayton), a former Montgomery County sheriff, rolled out a 15-point plan to reform the law enforcement system. He says reforms need to be made to protect good officers from the bad ones.

"Any chatter of defunding our police departments is just nonsense. We're not even going down that path, we're gonna support of our officers, we're going to hopefully, properly fund them and train them properly. We need good police officers," says Plummer.

Santiago says the Columbus Freedom Coalition is for abolition, not reform. Santiago wants to push back against a misconception that defunding police will make communities more dangerous.  

"They would be replaced by actually helpful resources. Like community outreach and crisis trained intervention, and housing, and health care. It's kind of an overarching thing because without the material conditions that make life so hard for people, we won't need the police," Santiago says. "A lot of the issues that police are called for are issues of survival and if we provided survival to every person in the country as many other countries do I don't think we'd be leaning so heavily on the police."

The city of Columbus plans to spend $359 million on its police department this year. A budget forecast from the Cleveland's mayor showed the city spending $218 million for police in 2020. And in Cincinnati, the city's police budget for the current fiscal year was $151 million.

Copyright 2020 The Statehouse News Bureau

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.