When choosing between militarization and investing in the city’s future, the answer is obvious: prioritize human investment.
During President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on March 1, he said that “the answer is not to defund the police. It’s to fund the police.” He was met with a bipartisan standing ovation.
U.S. spending on police is greater than the military expenditures of every nation on Earth except two: China and the U.S.’s own military expenditures.
The city of St. Louis’ 2020 police budget was $153,870,214. That is 27% of the city’s budget and amounts to roughly $454 per resident, according to Vera Institute of Justice.
Biden insisted funds for police should be used for “training” and “protecting our communities.” The bulk of the city’s police budget goes toward personnel services such as salaries and pensions, and $1,288,255 goes towards police training.
When the city spends 27% of its budget on policing, there is no excuse to raise its funding. The city faces unsuitable housing and homeless populations, and a number of residents and activists have demanded the city’s police budget be reallocated to more holistic programs. Those funds could easily improve the MetroLink, bus services or roads that are littered with potholes.
In a state that sabotages the city’s autonomy and a nation that reduces us to “flyover territory,” perhaps the city should go its own way and experiment with new forms of investment to fight crime. Critics of policing argue poverty alleviation and social investment reduces crime, so why not try that? When choosing between militarization and investing in the city’s future, the answer is obvious: prioritize human investment.
Ultimately, what is the alternative? To continuously increase funding for police? What is an acceptable percentage of the city budget for police? Is it 100%? 75%? 50%? Will we raise the percentage forever in hopes of eventually finding the “optimal level of funding” to reduce crime?
Proponents of “Defund the Police” have been reduced to dreamy, unrealistic idealists. To believe more sticks and stones will solve issues created by poverty, deprivation and hopelessness is true idealism, albeit idealism without empathy.
In recent years, St. Louis police funding has been reduced, approaching $200 million between 2016 and 2018. According to KSDK.com, St. Louis homicides dropped 25% in 2021. Tony Messenger, a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, reported in August 2021 that crime has gone down in St. Louis. Clearly, increasing funding to police departments is not the only way to reduce crime.
Historian Michael Parenti once said that “the function of police is to protect property.” This is the true reason behind Biden’s call to increase funding. Following the George Floyd protests and unrest, the Capitol riot and the trucker’s convoy, the U.S. government wishes to strengthen its domestic military arms to safeguard property and prevent societal change. St. Louis doesn’t have to follow this path.