Last summer, thousands of Baltimore residents took to the streets, joining the national call to divest from the police and reinvest in Black and Brown communities that have faced longstanding systemic divestment. These calls were built on decades of work by Black and Brown organizers who have long demanded meaningful solutions to community safety, such as housing, mental health supports, and funding for education--not police and jails. The Mayor’s First 100 Days Transition Report is a strong response to these calls, and we commend you for your commitment to reimagining public safety and for prioritizing violence prevention funding that addresses the root causes of violence, regaining city authority over the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) in order to transform it, and the assessment and expansion of the alternative 911 system. These are all smart proposals that we welcome.
Yet in this moment of national reckoning, as COVID-19 strains public budgets and threatens further devastating cuts for our communities, we urge you to join us in a bolder yet essential vision for Baltimore. We ask for your commitment to divest at least 25 percent from the city’s current police department budget and reinvest these funds in solutions that are proven to support real community health and safety.
Why 25 percent? Defunding the police by 25 percent would bring Baltimore police spending in line with the cost per capita of other city police forces. It is significant enough to help Baltimore meet its local increase in school funding - $161.5 million by 2030 - required to receive an almost $585 increase in state school funding, as promised under the Blueprint for Maryland's Future. In combination with dismantling and abolishing the Police Department under Baltimore City Schools (the only school police force in the state), such new funding priorities are essential to reimagining the relationship between the city and the most underfunded schools, neighborhoods, children and families.
Baltimore’s neighborhoods have been shaped by a legacy of racist policies, and the resulting racial segregation continues to dictate investment decisions to this day. As is the case in many cities, in Baltimore’s whiter, wealthier neighborhoods, there have been more permits for building, rehabbing, and demolition; more loans for residential developers and property owners; more lending to commercial development; and higher sales prices.These investment patterns are mirrored within the city’s infrastructure investments: a 2017 study found that over the preceding five years, the budget allocated an average of $15 million for capital projects--which support the renovation of schools, libraries, museums, community centers, and streets and sewer lines, for example--in neighborhoods with more than 75 percent white residents, versus $8 million in neighborhoods that were 75 percent people of color.We must demand racial equity in the use of our public dollars--by defunding the police department and refunding Baltimore communities that have been systematically stripped of resources for decades.
The Baltimore Police Department’s budget has continuously grown decade after decade and now receives an outsized share of discretionary funding. Even when adjusting for inflation, spending on police increased 173 percent between 1965 and 2005, accounting for a larger share of the city budget over time. Between just 2012 and 2018, the police department budget grew 42 percent. In those six years, actual spending on overtime budgets for the BPD increased by 95 percent, exceeding the adopted amounts by an average of $6.7 million each year. Meanwhile, the city’s population has contracted, from 939,024 in 1960 to 640,064 in 2005 to 539,490 in 2019.
By FY2020, per capita spending on the police department reached $840 per resident-- exceeding per capita spending on police in 72 of the biggest cities in the US. The BPD has also consistently received an outsized percentage of the city’s general fund (26% in FY2020), compared to community investment priorities, such as funding for public schools (14%), substance abuse and mental health (0.2%), recreation and parks (2%) and the Office of Homeless Services (0.6%).
The city continues to overinvest in police despite the lack of evidence that policing leads to public safety. Continued overinvestment in police can not be justified by the data: Over the last several years, Baltimore has seen a relatively stable rate of violent crime, and since 2014, arrest rates have dropped by nearly 50 percent. Nevertheless, the city continues to grow the police department budget. The data does show, however, that investments in drug treatment, mental health support, educational completion programs, and supportive interventions for families in crisis are more effective and less expensive “crime fighting” strategies than increased incarceration and policing. Everything from preschool programs, to summer jobs for youth, to improved access to healthcare, are more clearly linked to reduced crime rates than police, jails, and prisons.
There is broad support to reimagine public safety. A recent poll shows that nearly 70 percent of voters nationwide support both non-police first responders and community programs for de-escalation.The Vera Institute of Justice conducted an analysis of Baltimore’s 2019 911 call data and found that only .5 percent of all calls were related to violent crime and nearly 56% were classified as non-emergency and low-priority. 4.3% of calls were related to mental health and substance use--more than 8 times the volume of calls related to violent crime.
This all shows the broad public openness to reimagine what we ask police to do and opens the door to emergency services that can be more effectively handled by non-police personnel and community groups. We want to strongly support your first 100 days goal to expand and assess an alternative 911 system. We offer our help and support, and note that the Vera Institute of Justice has crunched significant data from Baltimore and is willing to provide their analysis and expertise.
We understand that 25 percent is a significant amount to cut--$137 million based on the current year-- and that we will face resistance. But given the extreme spending realities in Baltimore, to cut any less would fail to redress the historic inequity in spending on police. Baltimore’s police budget literally bleeds our city dry.
We invite you to reimagine with us and to act boldly. Weask for your commitment to defund the BPD by 25 percent and to redirect those taxpayer dollars to meet future school funding demands and to scale up other programs and resources that support true public safety.We urge you to draw upon the expertise and wisdom of community leaders and organizers who are most impacted by policing to help Baltimore re-image public safety beyond policing for decades to come. We have already reached out to your office to request a meeting to discuss this letter and its proposals. I look forward to hearing from you to schedule time to begin a deeper conversation. You can reach me at Shaq@communitiesunite.org or 410-905-5654.
Shaquille Carbon, Communities United Organizing Director