Police Funding as a Deficit of Democracy, not Deterrence

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Professor Noah Smith-Drelich’s Funding the Police is a welcome addition to the growing literature on structural barriers to implementing abolitionist visions of public safety. Professor Smith- Drelich’s central argument is consistent with our findings, in Defunding Police Agencies, that external funding of local police agencies imposes a set of “indirect constraints” that ensure robust police budgets and disincentivize spending on non-police social programs that might better ensure public safety. We believe, however, that Professor Smith-Drelich may be too sanguine about the deterrence potential of constitutional tort judgments. Misconduct judgments are largely financed through commercial insurance and public borrowing. Legal changes and political pressures are also foreclosing cuts to police budgets. As a result, misconduct judgements may actually contribute to pathological policing by starving municipalities of the resources necessary to address social problems through social services. In the most fiscally distressed localities, it is often the very people and communities most terrorized by abusive policing who ultimately bear the costs of efforts to hold the police accountable through the courts. This points to a disturbing irony that inheres in efforts to hold police accountable through liability judgments: it is the people, and not the police, who pay.

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Ohio State Law Journal Online

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