We've put together actionable policy recommendations that state and local governments can take to make policing more fair, democratic, and accountable as we move towards defunding the police. You’ll find several comprehensive email templates to send to your local and state politicians, along with policy research, our case for why defunding is necessary, and links to further resources and opportunities for action.
Defunding the police and returning the means of coercive power to our communities will be a long process. Much of the infrastructure to replace policing with actual measures towards community safety has not yet been built, and to do so well and with community input will take time. But in the meantime, there are some actions we must take to make policing meaningfully less violent and more accountable.
Below, you will find email templates that call for defunding the police and harm reduction reforms at state and municipal levels. Each template outlines a comprehensive framework under which communities retain the right to self-determine how they want to address the issue of community safety (defunding the police) and research-backed police reform policy, to be enacted without raising the police budget.
At the end, you will also find breakdowns of common reform-oriented policy proposals. These policy proposals have two key things in common: they can be enacted at any time with legal and straightforward legislation, and they can be put in place without increasing police budgets as part of a sustainable defunding plan.
Ready to Go
How it Works
There are four email templates from which you can choose. They are divided into two tiers: customizable and non-customizable.
For the customizable ones, you can edit the body and demands to better fit your area's policy needs and add your own voice. This option is recommended.
For the ready to go ones, you only need to enter your information and the recipient's information.
Within each tier, there are two emails: one for your local politicians, and one for your State Congress representatives. We recommend that you send both.
The local option is for the person who is in charge of your police department's budget and union contract negotiations. This will be either your mayor or your county executive, depending on if you are served by a municipal or county police department, respectively. This can also be sent to your local city/county council members. The demands include: the implementation of use of force restrictions, increased accountability, and to begin designing a plan to sustainably defund the police, all to be enacted immediately.
The state option is for your representatives in State Congress. This demands for the introduction and support of legislature that will withhold state funds from local police departments that do not comply with the demands laid out in the other email, including mechanisms by which they can achieve that. It also includes ending qualified immunity and the ability of someone in custody to consent to sexual acts. Change on the state level is necessary in order to scale up across-the-board defunding of the police.
What You Need
Know whether your local police department is a municipal or county department.
The email addresses for the mayor’s office and city council members’ offices (municipal) OR the email addresses for the county executive’s office and county council members’ offices (county).
The email addresses of your State Congress representatives (you should have two, unless you live in Nebraska).
You can find your local, state, and national representatives through this link.
(Optional) Data on your local city/council budget and what policies/laws are already in place.
Ready to Go
Now the baton passes to you. Share with your friends, follow through, make sure that these reforms are passed, that plans for sustainable defunding emerge, and that the ethos of a safety for all is heard and implemented in your local area. Do this by lobbying, staying up to date on new bills, and continuing to reach out. Join an organization in your area that is part of the defunding or even abolitionist movement. If you live in a place with an elected Sheriff, hold them accountable to their constituents. Continue unlearning your colonized and racist mindset.
Remember: the police are just one aspect of our racist society. Dramatic change is needed throughout if we want to end systemic racism. If you want more to work on, take the communities, institutions, or other spaces with which you are directly involved and examine the role they play in upholding white supremacy. Work towards necessary changes so that not only do they not uphold white supremacy, but they also actively work against it. These kinds of local, grassroots projects are vital to creating long-lasting change.
The idea of policing as we know it today began in London, with the creation of the London Metropolitan Police in 1829. The first official American police department came but a decade later in Boston, and as they spread throughout the country, they took over the roles of night watch groups in the North and the remnants of slave patrol groups in the South. Since then, the police have served to enforce an economic and racial hierarchy. There have been multiple efforts to reform the police since its creation, and they are summarized in sociologist Kenneth Clark’s testimony in front of the Kerner Commission to investigate race riots and systemic racism in 1968:
“I read the report…of the 1919 riot in Chicago, and it is as if I were reading the report of the investigating committee on the Harlem riot of ’35, the report of the investigating committee of the Harlem riot of ’43, the report of the McCone Commission on the Watts riot. I must again in candor say to you members of this Commission – it is a kind of Alice in Wonderland – with the same moving picture re-shown over and over again, the same analysis, the same recommendations, and the same inaction.”
Although it may be tempting to conclude that what is needed is reform, history has told a different story. What is needed is the protection of the civil rights of our community members, specifically our Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and LGBTQ+ community members. They have long not only not been protected by police, but have felt actively endangered by them. We can achieve this protection by sustainably reducing the role of public officials who are trained to see community members as possible threats or criminals, and replacing them with officials and structures that are designed to see community members as humans. This means redistributing local budgets to address the root causes of the social issues we charge police to deal with, like establishing violence intervention programs, housing development and preservation, homeless services, addiction counseling, trauma specialists, unarmed traffic enforcers, and more. Do we need armed officials responding to car accidents? Giving tickets? Performing wellness checks? Responding to someone experiencing a mental health crisis? Those experiencing homelessness? So many aspects of a police officer’s job are nonviolent. Why do we need someone who is lethally armed charged with those duties? What if, instead of continuously punishing crimes committed from places of dire necessity, we created a system that didn't allow for that in the first place?
Reimagining what safety can look like through an objective, democratic lens, without the constraints of existing institutions: that is the goal of this project. We can't get there immediately, however. Sustainable defunding and subsequent reinvesting will take time. We must allow for the institutions that will come to replace aspects of the police to become fully operational. During that time, the police need to be prevented from further abusing their power. For this reason, the demands laid out in the email are to create a safer police force by limiting use of force, increasing accountability, and eventually sustainably defunding the police in order to provide public safety to all.
A World Without Police
Washington Post Editorial Board: 'Defund the Police' is a call to imagine a safer America. We should answer it.
Annie Lowrey: Defund the Police: America needs to rethink its priorities for the whole criminal justice system.
Amanda Arnold: What Exactly Does it Mean to Defund the Police?
José Martín: Six Ideas for a Cop-Free World
Abdefatah, Rund, Ramtin Arablouei, hosts. “American Police.” Throughline (podcast), National Public Radio (June 4, 2020). Accessed June 5, 2020. https://www.npr.org/transcripts/869046127
Archbold, Carol. “Policing: A Text/Reader.” Chapter 1: The History of the Police. 2012 https://www.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/50819ch1.pdf
Chang, Ailsa, host. “The History of Police in Creating Social Order in the US.” All Things Considered, National Public Radio (June 5, 2020). Accessed June 8, 2020. https://www.npr.org/2020/06/05/871083599/the-history-of-police-in-creating-social-order-in-the-u-s
Jones, William P. “Freedom for Every Citizen: The Missed Opportunity of the Kerner Report.” The Nation, April 30-May 7, 2018 issue (April 5, 2018). Accessed June 7, 2020. https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/freedom-for-every-citizen/
Philimon, Wenei. “Not just George Floyd: Police departments have 400-year history of racism.” USA Today (June 7, 2020). Accessed June 7, 2020. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/06/07/black-lives-matters-police-departments-have-long-history-racism/3128167001/
Spruill, Larry H. "Slave Patrols, ‘Packs of Negro Dogs’ and and Policing Black Communities." Phylon (1960-) 53, no. 1 (2016): 42-66. Accessed June 8, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/phylon1922.214.171.124.
Waxman, Olivia B. “How the U.S. Got Its Police Force.” Time (May 18, 2017). Accessed June 5, 2020. https://time.com/4779112/police-history-origins/
We created this as a way to scale up demands to defund the police. We found that many other templates were vague in their demands, and did not include the need for strict reforms during the time that the police are still active. Sustainable defunding will take time because the structures that will replace the police have not yet been built to the necessary scale (or built at all). We are also aware that many local police departments (especially in rural areas) will not receive many, if any, demands for this kind of change. This is why we think contacting State representatives is crucial. To us, even though abolition may be the ultimate goal, these emails are more focused on trying to start a conversation with those who make the rules about what safety really means, and how we can include those who have been excluded for the entire history of our country.
How the Policy Was Sourced
The demands compiled in the email templates include multiple policy recommendations from Campaign Zero’s Use of Force Project and Police Union Contract Project, the ACLU, as well as using policy reforms and accountability structures outlined in United States of America v. Police Department of City of Baltimore Consent Decree, among others. Resources from MPD150 were also used to help formulate demands to defund the police. The goal is to have a good mix of reforms that have already been implemented in other areas with radical action.
Each of the below below links to a page describing the proposal and how you can fight for it. Each section describes in-depth the current state of policy, and outlines what needs to be changed in order to limit police brutality or arrive at a safer approach to resolving societal issues. Use these as primers on specific policy areas and to inform how you can fight for a truly safe future.
Sustainable defunding of the police requires that we analyze the societal issues with which we task police and ask if there are better ways to resolve them, which both eliminates an area where police are perceived as needed and actually meets the needs of the community. One of the biggest arguments for policing is the threat of violence to community members by other community members. Not only is violence an active threat to the health and safety of the community, it is also incredibly costly. Policing, however, has not been very effective in resolving the issue of violence, especially within urban areas. In response to this unmet need, a multitude of incredibly effective violence intervention programs have popped up, ones that treat violence as a public health issue rather than a criminal issue. Their methods can be applied to urban areas around the country using funding from police budgets to help true long-term safety.
Qualified immunity is a legal principle that unfairly shields law enforcement and other government officials from liability when they infringe on our constitutional rights. It holds officers liable only when their conduct violates “clearly established” precedent, which has been interpreted incredibly narrowly to protect officers from punishment. Qualified immunity has been applied in almost unbelievable ways: for example, police who stole more than $200,000 while executing a search warrant were found not guilty because they “did not have clear notice that [the theft] violated the 4th Amendment.” This is not a law written by Congress or a state legislature, but was instead established in the courts without democratic accountability. It has massive and unjust impacts, and we must push at all levels of government to end it.
In America, many local police forces directly profit from fining and arresting the people they are meant to protect and serve. Imposing arbitrary fines and fees is used as a way to make up municipal budget shortfalls and gaps in police funding; in practice, this means that police stop predominantly low-income people for petty violations and extract money from them with no benefits for public safety. This is an indefensible travesty of justice that must be corrected immediately.
In most states, police unions are able to dictate the terms of internal disciplinary procedures in negotiations that go on “outside of the public view, and with no opportunity for public influence.” In such negotiations, officers are the ones who control how their colleagues are punished (or not punished) for abuses of power. As might be expected, this means police wrongdoings often go unpunished: increased officer protections are directly associated with violence and other abuses of power. In one particularly obscene example, a Chicago radio station uncovered that out of four hundred recent police shootings, just two officers were found at fault by the city’s Police Review Authority, and leadership “pressured investigators to reverse findings that went against police.” Similar statistics can be found across the United States.
Policy: Civil Forfeiture
Eliminating Ties Between Punition and Revenue
Civil forfeiture, a particularly egregious example of the policing-profit pipeline, should be banned immediately. This action can be taken on a state or federal level, and you should petition your representatives at all levels of government to do something about it. Asset forfeiture makes sense in some limited cases (for example, a thief should not be able to keep the goods they have stolen), but it has been abused in dramatic fashion by police who are legally able to take thousands of dollars from people who have committed no crime. (A)
Policing and revenue should eventually be decoupled completely, so that police and local governments no longer have incentives to arbitrarily fine and arrest us. This decoupling could take a number of forms, but the most promising seems to be something like this 2019 Hamilton Project proposal, which requires "the remittance of all criminal justice revenues—including court and incarceration fees as well as law enforcement revenues—to state government general funds for redistribution as per capita block grants, weakening the incentive for revenue-driven local law enforcement and adjudication without significantly reducing the pool of revenue available for most local governments."
This would make our policing more just and accountable, without harming the ability of police to prevent violent crime. It is a common-sense step, not just as part of a defunding plan, but for anyone who cares about living up to our ideals of justice.
(A) An article in the Harvard Law Review points out the depth of the problem beyond these specific examples:
Beginning with the war on drugs, civil forfeiture has become more a way to fund supposed crime-fighting than a way to actually fight crime… Since 2001, local police have seized over $2.5 billion through the federal statute, 81% of which came from people who were not charged with a crime. Police used this revenue to pay for everything from informants and weaponry to publicity efforts (such as clowns for parties and trading cards with pictures of officers) and luxury vehicles.
Democratizing Police Accountability
Police collective bargaining negotiations must be opened to public oversight, either by making the proceedings of such meetings a matter of public record or, perhaps more radically, by requiring that disciplinary standards incorporate input from the community and public interest groups. If police and local governments are doing nothing wrong, then there is no reason to hide from transparency.
We need to curb the ability of police to cover up for other officers, and fix unjust complaint proceedings that shield officers from accountability. This means passing laws that hold officers accountable in a wide variety of specific ways. And, more fundamentally, it means preventing police from setting their own disciplinary procedures, perhaps by restricting police union negotiations to the matters like working conditions, salaries, and benefits that any other public sector union would negotiate.
The public should have access to information about how and why their police departments are using force, so that we can understand and fight back against patterns of misconduct. States and localities should adopt standards similar to those already used to monitor the Baltimore City Police Department, as outlined in United States of America v. Police Department of City of Baltimore Consent Decree (see in particular Section VII, Part E, Section XIV, Part K, and Section XIX, Part D.) And disciplinary procedures should be easy to access, written in language accessible to the public, and include clear instructions for how to submit a complaint and the process after submission.
When police officers murdered Breyonna Taylor, they were shielded from accountability by complex bargaining procedures that allowed them a “pretermination hearing” with counsel, and then, if terminated, an appeal to the police merit board, of which some of the officers are themselves members. Officers felt comfortable blindly firing ten bullets and killing an innocent woman because they knew they would never have to face real justice. We must never allow this to happen again.
Policy: Qualified Immunity
Qualified immunity was first established in the Supreme Court case Pierson v. Ray (1967), but refined in Harlow v. Fitzgerald (1982). Its working definition is as follows:
“...Government officials performing discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate ‘clearly established’ statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”
The major clause here is “clearly established”, which has been interpreted incredibly narrowly and has led to a legal precedent of an almost identical case in order for qualified immunity to be overturned, allowing for government officials (in this case, police officers) to escape liability for almost anything they do while on the job. A Reuters analysis of appellate court cases found “the courts have shown an increasing tendency to grant immunity in excessive force cases – rulings that the district courts below them must follow”. By doing so, a major avenue towards police accountability is blocked off, and police are allowed to act with impunity.
Colorado is an example of a state that has acted on its own to abolish qualified immunity as a valid legal defense for state and local police officers. S.B.20-217 Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity Act explicitly states that “peace officers” are liable for depriving individuals of their rights as outlined in the Colorado State Constitution. While this is a major win in the fight to abolish qualified immunity nationwide, it is not enough to have all 50 states sign into law identical legislation because states only have jurisdiction over their own state constitutions. Qualified immunity does the most damage when police are allowed to deprive community members of their most basic rights granted in the U.S. Constitution without accountability, but the only bodies that can regulate that are the Supreme Court and U.S. Congress.
Federal attempts to end qualified immunity (namely H.R.7120 George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and H.R.7085 Ending Qualified Immunity Act) aim to do so by amending 42 USC 1983, a section of US federal legal code that was referenced in Pierson v. Ray (p. 548) in order to construct qualified immunity. Amending 42 USC 1983 is the best way to end qualified immunity at all state and local levels, as it takes away any legal basis the courts can use to justify giving police officers special privileges. The Justice in Policing Act was passed by the House of Representatives and has currently been read on the Senate floor twice.
In order to fully abolish qualified immunity, 42 USC 1983 must be amended to bar defendants from using the following arguments:
good faith or the belief that their actions were protected by law, and
the rights deprived by the defendant were not clearly established.
In the absence of such federal legislation, state legislation can also be passed that explicitly states that:
government officials must be held liable for deprivation of rights as guaranteed by state constitutions, and
qualified immunity is not a valid legal defense.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that these state laws will not protect victims of police brutality who allege a violation of their U.S. Constitutional rights at the hands of police officers.
In order to introduce a legitimately viable police accountability legal structure, qualified immunity must be abolished at all levels. However, even with qualified immunity abolished, police accountability is still not guaranteed. This is simply the first, necessary step.
Policy: Violence Interruption Programs
Shifting Funds Away from the Police and Towards Public Safety
Among the most effective violence interruption programs are Advance Peace (also known as Richmond’s Operation Peacemaker Fellowship), and Cure Violence, which have both curbed gun-related violence in their respective areas by 50% or more (Matthay et al., 2019, Butts et al., 2017, respectively).
Cure Violence was first established in Chicago, but its model has been scaled and implemented in a variety of urban areas, including South Bronx, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Phoenix. Advance Peace is a city-led scholarship program that employs a similar ethos to Cure Violence but a slightly different structure. They both treat violence, specifically gun violence, as a disease, using an epidemiological approach to creating safer communities, meaning that those who are most likely to spread violence are targeted for violence interruption. This includes both direct violence interruption tactics like conflict mediation and prevention of retaliatory violence as well as providing for the unmet needs of these community members, like employment or substance rehabilitation.
According to the models introduced by Cure Violence and Advance Peace, successful violence interruption programs have:
an epidemiological approach: targeting those who are most vulnerable to violence and/or most likely to commit violent acts,
direct violence prevention: prevent retaliatory violence, conflict mediation,
increased stability and stability within individuals’ lives: financial security via employment or scholarship, substance rehabilitation,
community trust: established and led by community members who understand the community and whom those in the community trust, without police, and
consistent and adequate funding.
Reproportioning city budgets to move away from prioritizing police and towards community-oriented safety is the goal of defunding the police. If the police are unable to sustainably keep communities safe and that safety can be ensured by another, non-police initiative, defunding the police does not mean an increase in danger, but empirically-driven policy focused on sustainable community safety.