As protests continue around the country against police brutality and systemic racism, students and activists are increasingly calling for cities to defund the police.
On June 26, the Minneapolis City Council approved a proposal to eliminate the city’s police department and establish a department of community safety and violence prevention in its place, according to NPR. A month earlier, a former Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, a Black man, by kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes during his arrest, sparking widespread protests over police violence. Austin City Council unanimously voted June 11 to demilitarize the Austin Police Department and reallocate part of APD’s $440 million budget to other public safety measures.
Assistant government professor Derek Epp said defunding the police means to reimagine cities’ budget and structure so that more support is given to public health services rather than a militarized police force. Epp said communities struggle with issues including health care, homelessness and mental health that cannot be addressed with a police force.
“(Defunding the police) is essentially a call to fundamentally rethink the role that police play in society,” Epp said. “There are a lot of social services that we don’t do a great job of delivering in the United States. It’s not really fair that the police don’t really have the tools to meaningfully fight or combat these problems.”
Epp, who has researched racial disparities in traffic stops, said one incremental step toward defunding the police would be eliminating unnecessary vehicle searches since they are a large part of racial disparity in the police system.
“Policing in America is a really good example of treating the symptoms and not the underlying disease,” Epp said. “Pretty much wherever we look, African Americans are much more likely to be searched after traffic stops. I’ve never been pulled over and searched by police because I’m a white guy. This is something that hopefully white people around the country are opening their eyes to.”
Biomedical engineering sophomore Catriona Lochhead said defunding the police is not only about removing funds from the police department, but reassigning that money to initiatives supporting education, mental health and sexual assault prevention.
“I think what scares a lot of people is ‘if we defund the police, who’s going to protect us?’” Lochhead said. “In the absence of that, we can look to community-based policing, which already we see happening in very high-profile neighborhoods.”
Kennedy Cannon, the membership director for the UT National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said certain aspects of Austin life, such as homelessness and education, are lacking funds. She said much of the funding that is given to police departments could instead be given to universities or mental health initiatives.
University Spokesperson J.B. Bird said in an email that funding for UTPD provided by the UT System Board of Regents cannot be redirected to other purposes, but the University is working closely with the City of Austin and Austin Police Department to ensure the community remains safe.
“I feel as though police officers have taken their power to extreme levels and have taken lives of innocent people,” Cannon said. “As far as we know, the police are here to protect and serve our country and our community, and not all police officers are doing that.”
Cannon, a dance junior, said the NAACP is coming back onto campus after being inactive for three years and is focused on rebuilding a presence on campus.
“We’re on campus to cultivate all minorities,” Cannon said. “We already are, in a sense, spreading what (the) Black Lives Matter movement is saying. NAACP’s overall purpose is to bring unity within the University.”