‘Defund the police’: What the three word chant sweeping the country really means

Drone view of Defund Police painted on MLK Blvd. in Madison
Drone view of "Defund police" painted on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, about a block from the Capitol building, in Madison.


MADISON, Wis. — It’s become the new rallying cry at protests across the country and here in Wisconsin: “Defund the police.”

But the movement isn’t necessarily about less policing— rather, policing in a different way. Supporters say they’re asking cities to reevaluate how their money is being spent and to redistribute that money to keep everyone safe.

Demonstrators call “defunding the police” step one in addressing systemic problems in policing across the country. They want more money to be spent on what they say lower-income communities really need, like affordable housing and quality education. State and local governments spent $115 billion on policing in 2017, according to data compiled by the Urban Institute.

Defunding and even fully disbanding police departments has happened before.

In 2012, with crime rampant in Camden, New Jersey, the city disbanded its police department and replaced it with a new force that covers the entire county. Eight years later, murders are down by two-thirds and overall violent crime has been cut in half.

How did they do it?

Officers were retrained, their job conditions were revised, and a bigger county-level force was relaunched, not only with more officers but also with a renewed focus: community service. Out went the urban-warrior attitude. In came the guardians.

The new policy said officers would no longer be judged by their number of arrests and tickets. Instead, they were told to patrol on foot, mingle with residents and build trust.

Earlier this month, the new police chief didn’t just participate in a Black Lives Matter protest. He helped lead it.