Reimagining Safety & Security In Our Communities

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Above Photo: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Freedom To Thrive

Over the last 30 years, at both the national and local levels, governments have dramatically increased their spending on criminalization, policing, and mass incarceration while drastically cutting investments in basic infrastructure and slowing investment in social safety net programs.

The choice to resource punitive systems instead of stabilizing and nourishing ones does not make communities safer. Instead, study after study shows that a living wage, access to holistic health services and treatment, educational opportunity, and stable housing are far more successful in reducing crime than police or prisons.

This report examines racial disparities, policing landscapes, and budgets in twelve jurisdictions across the country, comparing the city and county spending priorities with those of community organizations and their members. While many community members, supported by research and established best practices, assert that increased spending on police do not make them safer, cities and counties continue to rely overwhelmingly on policing and incarceration spending while under-resourcing less damaging, more fair, and more effective safety initiatives. Each profile also highlights current or prospective campaigns that seek to divest resources away from police and prisons towards communities and their development. We call this the invest/divest framework. We also offer a “Budget 101” to help readers understand some of the terms reflected in this report, and provide a general framework of budget analysis and advocacy.

At the end of the report we highlight the potential impact of participatory budgeting, a popular financial governance strategy which can assist advocates and communities in advancing the invest/divest framework.

Key Findings

  • Among the jurisdictions profiled, police spending vastly outpaces expenditures in vital community resources and services, with the highest percentage being 41.2 percent of general fund expenditures in Oakland.
  • Among cities profiled, per capita police spending ranges from $381 to as high as $772
  • Consistent community safety priorities emerged across jurisdictions. Most notable among them are demands for mental health services, youth programming, and infrastructure such as transit access and housing.


  • DHFabian

    This article was written from the middle class perspective. It’s a quite limited perspective, only tangentially connected with broader conditions in the US today. One clue is seen in the phrase, “slowing investment in social safety net programs.” Safety net programs for whom? Democrats “liberated” the poor from that social safety net. They ended actual welfare aid back in the 1990s. For real. (TANF is just a short-term, marginally subsidized job program, only for those with young children.) They took the first steps to similarly “reform” Social Security, targeting the disabled. The fact that media have chosen to disregard the consequences doesn’t change reality.

    Slowing investment? Dems have steadily been DIS-investing in safety net programs since the Clinton admin., one cut, one program at a time. More recently, Dems kicked off 2015 with a clear statement, voting to virtually end food stamps for the elderly and the disabled (cut from $115 per month, down to $10). This has been ongoing. Results: The overall life expectancy of the US poor has already fallen below that of every developed nation. The media simply haven’t considered this to be an issue of public concern.