One of the few concrete demands you’ll hear from Black Lives Matter protesters is a call to #DefundPolice. There’s disagreement among activists about exactly what that means, but at a minimum some would like to see cuts to police budgets and to see that money redirected toward more social services instead. Here’s how the Black Lives Matter website puts it: “We call for a national defunding of police. We demand investment in our communities and the resources to ensure Black people not only survive, but thrive.”

Wednesday night, Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles gave the activists some of what they want, announcing that he is rolling back a planned increase in the LAPD budget and instead seeking cuts of $100-$150 million from the LAPD.

In an unexpected move, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday that a planned funding increase for LAPD has been canceled and the city will likely seek as much as $150 million in further cuts, with the money used for “reinvesting in black communities and communities of color.”…

Prior to the announcement, the city was actually planning a 7% increase in funding for LAPD, which would have given the department approximately 53% of the city’s general fund. This despite the fact that major cuts were planned for other essential services due to budget shortfalls caused by the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns.

“We can’t walk to the promised land in a single day, nor a single week, but we better get ready,” Garcetti said. The Mayor’s ability to defend a budget increase for police may have been hurt by a comment LA Police Chief Michel Moore made Monday night.

“We didn’t have protests last night — we had criminal acts,” Moore said during a news conference with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on Monday night. “We didn’t have people mourning the death of this man, George Floyd — we had people capitalizing. His death is on their hands as much as it is those officers.”

Moore apologized minutes later, saying he “misspoke when I said his blood is on their hands” and that he regretted “that characterization.”

Those comments resulted in demands that Chief Moore be fired. The Mayor defended Moore but obviously decided not to defend the LAPD budget. In any case, Garcetti’s announcement of cuts to the budget were immediately judged insufficient by an LA Black Lives Matter organizer:

Black Lives Matter Los Angeles organizer Melina Abdullah, in a statement relayed through the People’s Budget campaign, said they were “encouraged to see that our constant action has pushed Mayor Garcetti, City Council to back up their nice words with some actual action, however small, that directly confronts the racist police state that is the city of Los Angeles.”

And that raises the question of what exactly would be enough to satisfy the #DefundPolice activists who are making similar demands around the country. Vox’s Matt Yglesias looked at this question yesterday and found a range of answers:

The “defund” slogan dances ambiguously between abolition-type schemes and just saying officials should spend less money on policing at the margins. The Black Lives Matters #DefundThePolice explainer page argues that “law enforcement doesn’t protect or save our lives. They often threaten and take them.” By contrast, a Justin Brooks op-ed at the Appeal titled “Defund the Police Now” is an extended argument for spending somewhat less money on crime control and somewhat more on social services, as a win-win resulting in less crime, less punishment, and less police violence against civilians.

Yglesias’ Vox colleague German Lopez expressed frustration at the vague sloganeering which has made its way into print recently:

In any case, Yglesias points out that there are a several serious problems with defunding police. The first is that police a still quite popular overall. The second is that a real argument can be made that “underpolicing of black neighborhoods and underprotection of black crime victims is a critical but underconsidered dimension of racial inequity in the United States.” He cites a poll from 2015 which found that black adults who said they were treated unfairly by the police were significantly more likely to want to see more police hiring not less.

Finally, Yglesias points to an article he wrote last year arguing that hiring more police would actually solve some of the problems BLM protesters want solved:

More police officers, in particular, doesn’t need to mean more arrests and more incarceration. More beat cops walking the streets seems to deter crime and reduce the need to arrest anyone. And some of the best-validated approaches to reducing excessive use of force by police officers require departments to adopt more manpower-intensive practices.

In terms of the intersection of criminal justice policy and racial politics, new polling provided exclusively to Vox from the leading Democratic data firm Civis Analytics shows that black voters — just like white ones — support the idea of hiring more police officers. Black voters are likely aware that they are disproportionately likely to be victims of crime and disproportionately likely to benefit from extra police staffing in high-crime areas. Indeed, as Jenée Desmond-Harris wrote for Vox in 2015, one primary grievance African Americans have with the criminal justice systems is that black neighborhoods are paradoxically underpoliced.

If any of this is true then defunding police as LA has decided to do could actually exacerbate some of these problems rather than solve them. As for the calls to actually zero out police budgets, I don’t think that’s going anywhere.

Probably the best that can be said about this is that our cities, like our states, are laboratories of democracy. Some cities may follow LA’s lead and cut police budgets under pressure from BLM activists. I think we’ll find out fairly soon if that made things better or worse in the communities it was intended to help. Here’s the full Garcetti press conference.

Update: I quoted Vox authors Matt Yglesias and German Lopez above. I missed that Vox’s has also become a center of controversy by stating the obvious today, i.e. “Abolish police” is a stupid idea.

For this he was quickly pushed to apologize:

A nice response from Esoteric Jeff mocking the abolish police concept and the subsequent apology: