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Now more than ever, people around the country and across the political spectrum recognize that gross inequities and failed policies are deeply ingrained features of American criminal legal and immigration systems, and they are demanding real solutions that remedy those problems. The time for incremental reforms is over. We need a bold approach that ends mass incarceration; dismantles systems that have been shaped by a legacy of systemic, anti-Black racism and white supremacy; centers the voices of justice-involved people; and is rooted in human dignity.

Confronting the crisis in policing

George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and so many others should be alive today. Since 2015, more than 1,200 Black people have been shot and killed by the police. With every police encounter lies the threat of escalation, injury, and death. National protests against police violence and anti-Black racism demand more than minor changes in policy and practice. They require a systemic dismantling of a culture of policing that tolerates violence and abuse, accepts extreme racial disparities, and promotes a profound lack of transparency and accountability.

At Vera, we seek the truth in numbers. Since 2015, Black people have been fatally shot by police at a rate almost three times higher than white people, and Black people who were unarmed were four times more likely to be shot and killed by law enforcement. These and too many other numbers reveal a larger truth—that Black people’s lives are still deemed to be worth very little in America.

In the wake of 2020’s historic protests calling for racial justice and systemic change, advocates and community leaders looked to Vera for help in holding their local leaders accountable. We provided data about police budgets and evidence of overreach in enforcement, especially against Black people and in communities of color.

Police departments are among the most powerful local government agencies—and much of that power lies in their size and funding. To highlight what policing truly costs, Vera compiled and analyzed the recently adopted budgets of 72 of the biggest cities across the United States. Nearly 60 volunteers from Goldman Sachs—including analysts, lawyers, and managing directors—contributed their time and expertise to assist with data collection and analysis. With their help, we created an interactive online tool—What Policing Costs—that allows users to examine how police departments spend their dollars and to explore how changes to each spending category could reduce the total. Where available, we included data on historic policing expenditures, racial disparities in arrests, and other drivers of police violence and misconduct.

This work reflects our belief that budgets are moral documents. These tools are helping community leaders, advocates, and our partners in the field reframe conversations around policing and public safety to focus on making investments that truly keep people safe—including investments in social services, housing, health, and treatment.

  • In June, we began working with the community-led Denver Task Force to Reimagine Policing and Public Safety—a unique collaboration of more than 40 community partners and representatives from the Denver Department of Safety. We’re providing the task force with expertise and support to help its members use data to develop policies, budgets, and programs that rely less on police responses and more on community-based services.
  • In July, we partnered with The Justice Collaborative and Local Progress to host a webinar for almost 100 elected officials from across the country that provided in-depth guidance on analyzing police budgets, understanding policing allocations, and identifying opportunities to reinvest in communities. We partnered with Local Progress to host a similar webinar in September, which also explored how some localities have begun reallocating policing budgets to reinvest in programs that keep communities safe and thriving.
  • In Minneapolis, where the police killing of George Floyd ignited national and international outcry, Vera’s research showed that Black people were arrested for nonviolent incidents at a rate nearly nine times higher than white people and that the city spends 35 percent of its budget—$444 per resident—annually on policing. We are currently working with local leaders and advocates to help them more closely examine the city’s budget and to develop recommendations for systemic change that they can incorporate into the city’s budget cycle before the end of 2020.
  • In New York City, we worked closely with both elected officials and advocates to analyze the most recently adopted budget for the New York City Police Department (NYPD), by far the biggest and most expensive police department in the country. Vera’s analysis revealed that the overall annual cost of the NYPD is not the frequently reported $6 billion, but instead more than $11 billion annually, when $5.4 billion in fringe expenses, pensions, and payouts from other parts of the city's budget are included.
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We are expanding our data analysis and research highlighting police over-enforcement and detailing police budgets, advancing solutions that focus on new approaches to public safety that rely less on police response, and working with partners in Congress and statehouses nationwide to pass laws requiring police to limit the use of force, respond immediately to officer misconduct, and open officer disciplinary records to the public.