After Weeks of Protest, a Look at Policy Changes in U.S. Policing

Almost two months have passed since Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd. Protests have swept the nation, and “defund the police” has become the rallying cry of the Black Lives Matter movement and others who are seeking systemic changes to policing in the United States.

Advocates and communities are calling for a range of actions to rethink public safety, including:

  • reducing the size and budget of police departments drastically;
  • re-engineering 911 and other dispatching systems so police aren’t the first responders to all of society’s problems;
  • creating alternatives to police response—such as medical and mental health first responders instead of armed officers—to de-escalate situations and provide social services;
  • investing money in community-based services and resources for education, housing, jobs, and more; and
  • limiting contact with police by legalizing and decriminalizing low-level offenses.

We are at an unprecedented moment in our nation’s history, when a majority of people believe American policing has a systemic problem. But have the protests galvanized transformative change?

Most cities have not significantly altered their approaches to police spending and oversight or taken steps to reduce their footprint. But a handful of jurisdictions have, suggesting a shift in the political winds and the potential for mobilizing reform. This brief captures some of the most notable budget and policy changes since the protests began in late May.

As important as these successes are, they are only the beginning of the seismic overhaul of policing needed to address a legacy of racism and over-enforcement, especially in Black communities. American policing, with approximately 18,000 unique departments, costs $115 billion annually. The size and power of police forces are formidable—240 million calls to 911 a year and more than 10 million arrests—and yet only about 5 percent of those encounters with the police involve a serious violent crime.