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U.S. Police Were Not Defunded In 2020, Federal Data Show

Police in the U.S. were not "defunded" in 2020. Since 2016, the number of full-time police staff has barely changed in local police departments (down one-tenth of one percent), and has even slightly increased in sheriff’s offices and federal agencies employing law enforcement., says the Prison Policy Initiative in a new analysis of federal data.

The finding tracks with reports of stagnant or increased budgets in the 2021-22 fiscal year in many police departments, including 34 of the largest 50 U.S. cities.

The federal data also show that racial disparities in policing persist, particularly in the threat or use of force. Only two percent of people who had any contact with police from January to June 2020 experienced the nonfatal threat or use of force, but this aggression fell disproportionately on Black people.

The number of women who experience police use of force is continuing to rise. There was no apparent reason that women would be increasingly targeted by police hostility while men’s police encounters, including arrests, continue to plummet.

Some 36 percent off people who said in a 2020 survey that they’d recently contacted police for help reported that police didn’t improve the situation. Still, 93 percent said they were at least equally likely to contact police in the future.

The fact that most people would contact police in the future even when they haven’t been helpful in the past is a clear indication of our society’s overreliance on police.

Despite a seemingly smaller “footprint” of police interactions in the community in 2020 amid the pandemic and demonstrations over George Floyd's death — fewer people came into contact with police overall, — those interactions were still often racially discriminatory and

The Prison Policy Initiative notes that many responses in the survey referred to experiences with police in 2019. The group concluded that the the federal survey results "fail to provide the public with critical and timely information about how policing changed — or didn’t change — in 2020."

More than one in five people reported coming into contact with police in the previous year. About half of police contacts were initiated by residents who reached out to the police to report a crime, seek help, or for another reason; the other half were initiated by police, through traffic stops or otherwise approaching or arresting someone.

Police had less contact with the public in 2020 than in 2018, the last time this survey was administered, but that is unsurprising given the pandemic-related lockdowns in early 2020.

Black people were nearly 12 times more likely than white people to report that their most recent police contact involved misconduct, such as using racial slurs or otherwise exhibiting bias.

During traffic stops, Black and Hispanic people were the most likely groups to experience a search or arrest.

White people were the least likely to receive a ticket and the most likely just to get off with a warning during a traffic stop. The immense discretion — and lack of accountability — police have when making traffic stops leaves too much room for racially biased questioning and enforcement, says the Prison Policy Initiative.

More than one in seven people 65 or older reported police contact, and the number of older people experiencing the threat or use of force nearly doubled between 2018 and 2020.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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