The Problems With Policing Today

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To download a printable copy of this issue: the DRIP - The Problems with Policing Today.

Unless you've been living under a rock, it should come as no surprise to you that many people have been pointing to problems in law enforcement today. Those who call for defunding the police believe that these issues are embedded in law enforcement as a whole, rejecting the argument that it is just "a few bad apples."

In our last issue, we showed you that some of the issues in policing today, such as racial prejudice, detachment from public interest, and increasing militarization didn't just appear out of nowhere, but have been continuously snowballing over the years despite efforts to reform police forces.

The truth is, the implications, effects, and consequences of police forces existing as they do today are complex and multifaceted. Defunding the police is a thoughtful response to these issues that is informed through a long, traumatic history and an analysis of some well-substantiated and researched facts. In this issue, we present to you some of the facts that point to a critical problem in the very way policing today is done.

Police are not effective at what they are supposed to do.

Figure 1: Police Crime Clearance Rates
Figure 2: Changes in Crime and Police Spending

The most common statement in favor of increasing funding to law enforcement is, "police stop crimes." The opposite of this is used as an argument against defunding police: "if we cut funding to police departments, crime will increase." So let's first look at how effective police are at actually solving crime (see Figure 1).

  • Murder cases are the highest priority of every police department, and are also the crimes with the highest rate of crime clearance. Police solved 61.4% of murder cases in 2019. That means nearly 2 out of 5 murders go unsolved.
  • The rate of crime clearance drops significantly after that.
    • Police solved 52.3% of aggravated assault cases in 2019.
    • Only 32.9% (less than a third) of rape cases were solved by police in 2019.
    • Less than 15% of burglaries (a form of armed robbery) were solved in 2019.

"Maybe police just need more funding to help them solve crimes?"

These unimpressive crime-clearance numbers come despite continually increasing funds to police departments. The Denver Police Department received a budget of just over $244.3 million in 2019.

  • So the logical question is: shouldn't more funding be given to police to help improve crime clearance rates?
    • This begs the question, however, by assuming that increasing police funding does leave to more crimes being solved.
  • What the data actually shows is that over time there is no correlation with an increase in funding and rates of climbs (Figure 2).
  • Figure 3: Poverty and Incarceration Rates
    Figure 4: Law and Order vs Social Welfare spending
    Instead, multiple studies have shown that rates of crime are more demonstrably correlated with poverty and income levels (Figure 3).
  • Other studies have shown that there may be a correlation between increase welfare spending and lower rates of certain kinds of crimes.
  • Despite the comparative weakness of any data to indicate that police funding does any good in this avenue, police spending has risen as welfare fell since 1975, so that today police, prisons, and course receive about twice as much funding as welfare programs (Figure 4).
Figure 5

So if the increased funding is not leading to lower crime rates, what exactly are police departments using the money for?

Sales of military equipment to police departments is not a new phenomenon, as we showed in the last issue, but it is happening faster and police are getting access to more deadly and dangerous equipment than ever before.

  • The current wave of police militarization is facilitated by the legal framework of the 1033 Program, started in 1997. This program authorizes the Department of Defense to transfer excess military equipment to law enforcement agencies.
  • Studies show that in areas with a high amount of police militarization, there is an increase in civilian deaths, while crime is only displaced to other areas.
  • Studies done at the agency level showed that there is no demonstrable association between increased police militarization and lower crime rates.
    • In many jurisdictions that deploy SWAT teams, there were actually increases in violent crimes.
  • How does the idea of police militarization make you feel? Do you believe that a SWAT team should break down your door to serve a warrant?
    • Studies show that people's support for police funding wanes when they see more militarized police in their areas.
  • Dozens of departments had significant amounts of missing or unaccounted-for equipment, banning them from participation in the program.

Police militarization seems to lead to an increase in violence by police against civilians. So why are we funding this?

The anger that erupted from the brutal murder of George Floyd had been simmering for decades. People today are saying his name, as well as the names of Elijah McClain, Paul Castaway, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, and so, so many more.

Figure 6
Figure 7
Figure 8
Figure 9

Something that a lot of people don't understand is that they think these brutal and senseless killings are perpetrated by a few bad cops. But why do they keep happening?

Why do we have police trained to use violence and force against the people they are supposed to protect?

Shouldn't this kind of extreme be used only against those who are also using extreme violence?

Every human life unnecessarily taken by the ones who are supposed to protect us is a tragedy. But while it's not fun to talk about, we must address how there seems to be a racially-charged motivation to the way police kill.

As we explored in the previous issue, violence against Black people is embedded in the very origins of policing in the U.S. itself. You may hear a lot of people saying that "Black people commit more crime" and "if they would just cooperate, they would not be killed..."

  • In America, approximately 1 in 40 people were arrested in 2018.
  • Approximately 1 in 18 Black Americans were arrested in 2018.
  • Black Americans are more than twice as likely to be killed by police as White Americans (Figures 5 and 6).
  • The highest-risk group is Black men, who have a 1 in 1,000 chance of being killed by police during the course of their lives (Figure 7).
  • The rate of police killings increases dramatically with poverty (Figure 8).
    • Poverty is closely associated with race in this country. 18.7% of Black Americans are below the poverty line, compared with 9.4% of White Americans (Figure 9).

When people protest this brutality, they are paid back with more police violence.

Denver was among many cities where people raised their voices in mostly peaceful protests.

  • The police response in Denver was so aggressive that DPD ran out of riot control munitions and replenished them with a $200,000 order. This included 40mm rounds, gas grenades, and OC (tear gas) foggers.
  • DPD did not track which officers were equipped with which munitions.
  • On the first day of protests, at least 75 officers showed no body camera footage.
  • More than half of the 125 officer responses in the protest area resulted in hospital transports.

The weapons used by police in protest situations are supposed to be "less-lethal," but does that make them humane?

  • The tear gas used in cities around the U.S. to disperse protestors is banned for military use because it is considered a dangerous chemical agent.
  • The sonic weaponry (LRAD) used by police can permanently damage people's hearing.
  • Police are supposed to fire rubber bullets to ricochet off the ground, but they were firing them directly at unarmored, unarmed civilians. One young man lost his eye from a point-blank shot.

So if police are using so much excessive force, should they just get more or better training?

A common argument in favor of police reform is that officers should be trained more or that departments should require their new hires to go through more schooling.

  • Many police training programs fail to address the problems of violence and excess that are constantly perpetuated.
  • A Kentucky State Troopers training slideshow quotes Hitler and Robert E. Lee, advocating for violence over policy.
    • The trainer named in the first slide actually commanded and retired from internal affairs.
    • There are 20 military photos and 8 police photos in the slideshow. This implies an attitude that police are fighting a war in their own country - against citizens who are their enemies.
    • KSP only condemned parts of this presentation when they were publicized on the news, after who knows how many officers were trained through it.

The problem with more training is that regardless of how much schooling they go through, police on the force are trained to be like soldiers, not peacekeepers.

What other ineffective programs do police funds get used for?

Ok, so if a combat-focused, heavily-armed police force doesn't stop crime and harms people, what about the non-violent programs where police "go out into the community and teach kids about crime?"

One of the biggest sinks of police funding is the DARE program. We can all probably agree that young children shouldn't be abusing addictive drugs, right?

  • DARE has been shown to be ineffective through robust studies.
  • One study even suggested DARE was less effective than doing nothing.
  • The updated DARE program is even less effective, with a statistically significant number of students who went through the program showing higher levels of alcohol and tobacco abuse than students who had no intervention at all.

There are certainly ways to address the dangers of drug abuse and addition to children, but police-run programs are clearly not working.

The fantastic failure of DARE is just a prelude to the literal horror stories that happen when armed cops are put in schools.

In October of 2015, a young teenage student was using a cellphone in class against school rules, and the teacher called a police officer in to the classroom. When the student refused to leave, the police officer arrested her -- after first violently grabbing her by the neck, flipping her and her desk to the floor, and forcibly dragging her across the classroom.

In 2007, police arrested Desre'e Watson (who was six years old at the time) for throwing a temper tantrum in school. Because her wrists were too small, police had to handcuff her biceps when escorting her to the police station.

The placement of school resource officers (SROs) was a dramatic response to school shootings like Columbine and Sandy Hook. But instead of preventing shootings, these policies of stationing cops in schools have had unintended consequences.

  • One of these consequences is that more students are being put through the justice system than ever in what has been dubbed the "school-to-prison pipeline."
  • Students are being arrested for even minor behavioral problems that teachers have handled in the past.
    • Some of the disciplinary problems students have been arrested for include: tardiness, dress code violations, texting in class, and even passing gas in class.
  • Multiple studies have shown that arresting students makes them more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system in the future, weakens their chances at successful employment, and lowers the rates of both academic success and high school graduation.

Unfortunately for the children involved, problems of racially prejudiced policing practices are just as apparent in schools as they are in the adult world.

  • Even though Black children represent only about 18 percent of preschool students, about 48 percent of Black preschool students have received more than one out-of-school suspension.
  • In all grades, while only 4% of White students received more than one out-of-school suspension, nearly 1 in 6 Black students were suspended at least once.
  • At Denver Public Schools, students of color are three times more likely to get expelled or suspended than White students.

Excessive policing in schools leads (unsurprisingly) to excessive arrests, which comes at the cost of the students and our entire society.

  • It was reported in 2012 that it cost $290 per day, or $104,985 per year to house each youth inmate in Colorado.
  • The Social Science Research Network points out that "A growing body of research suggests that programs promoting a strong sense of community and collective responsibility enhance school safety much more effectively than police officers and other strict security measures without degrading the learning environment."
  • The Colorado Department of Public Health suggests we instead focus on alternatives to the justice system.

What do these alternatives look like?

The Defund the Police movement is not about hating everyone who is a cop. Many of the people who join police forces truly want to help their communities and do good things. But they are joining a system that is rife with the problems described above, and this wasn't even a full list. Reforming the police never seems to address the issues at the root.

Couldn't the people who want to be "helpers" do more good by aiding their communities in other ways?

Defunding the police is about shifting the paradigm of society from "punishing wrongdoers to deter crime" to "addressing the social ills that lead to crime in the first place." Defunding the police frees up resources to focus on programs that do just this - without enacting the violence and murder that police are currently known for.


If you want to dig deeper, check out our sources below.

Statista Research Department. “Clearance Rate - Crime by Type in the U.S. 2019.” Statista, October 1, 2020.

Kaste, Martin. “How Many Crimes Do Your Police Clear? Now You Can Find Out.” NPR, March 30, 2015.

Tate, Julie, and others. “Fatal Force: Police shootings dat base.” Washington Post, February 9, 2021.

Bump, Philip. “Over the past 60 years, more spending on police hasn’t necessarily meant less crime.” Washington Post, June 7, 2020.

Harrell, Erika, and others. “Household Poverty and Nonfatal Violent Victimization, 2008-2012.” Bureau of Justice Statistics, November 18, 2014.

Looney, Adam, and Turner, Nicholas. “Work and opportunity before and after incarceration.” Brookings Institute, March 14, 2018.

United States Census Bureau. “Modified Race Data 2010.” April 2010 (accessed February 2021).

US Federal Bureau of Investigation. “2018 Crime in the United States.” Uniform Crime Reporting Program, 2018.

Denver Mayor’s Office. “Mayor’s 2020 Budget.” City and County of Denver, accessed February 2, 2021.

Rudolph, Maximilian, and Starke, Peter. “How does the welfare state reduce crime? The effect of program characteristics and decommodification across 18 OECD-countries.” Journal of Criminal Justice, Volume 68, May-June 2020.

Fishback, Price V., and others. “Striking at the Roots of Crime: The Impact of Welfare Spending on Crime during the Great Depression.” The Journal of Law & Economics, Vol. 53, No. 4, November 2010.

104th Congress of the United States. “H.R. 3230 – National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997.” US House National Security Committee, September 23, 1996.

Mummolo, Jonathan. “Militarization fails to enhance police safety or reduce crime but may harm police reputation.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, September 11, 2018.

Gunderson, A., Cohen, E., Schiff, K.J. et al. “Counterevidence of crime-reduction effects from federal grants of military equipment to local police.” Nat Hum Behav (2020).

Walton, Satchel, and Walton, Cooper. “KSP training slideshow quotes Hitler, advocates ‘ruthless’ violence." Manual Redeye, October 30, 2020.

West, Steven L., PhD, and O’Neal, Keri K., PhD. “Project D.A.R.E. Outcome Effectiveness Revisited.” American Journal of Public Health vol. 94,6, June 2004.

Crime Solutions. “Program Profile: Taking Charge of Your Life.” National Institute of Justice, May 31, 2012.

Nance, Jason P. “Students, Police, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline.” Social Science Research Network, March 14, 2015.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “Criminal Justice: Disrupting the Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline.” Accessed February 9, 2021. Justice_brief.pdf

Feldman, Justin, ScD. “Police Killings in the U.S.” People’s Policy Project, Accessed February 8, 2021.