The notion of defunding the police has recently been at the centerfold of discussions about law enforcement reform in America. Organizations ranging from nationwide to the local level are fighting to bring awareness to this issue and incite much-needed change. Defund the Newton Police Department is a local group advocating for the reallocation of funds in the Newton city budget, away from policing and towards other social programs.
Defund NPD started with one document. According to Courtney, a member of the organization, budget negotiations in Newton were set to “quietly take place” over the summer. Within these negotiations, sizable cuts to services such as health, education, senior services, parks and environment, and libraries were proposed. Additionally, the city police budget was on track to increase, with plans to hire new personnel. One organizer with access to these budget proposals created a document with requested changes that would de-emphasize the police and favor other social programs. Soon, the document was circulating social media. One person’s advocacy evolved into an official organization that works with the local community to fight for issues relating to budget reallocation and defunding the police.
There are many misconceptions about what it means to defund the police. Defunding the police is not the same as abolishing it. Rather, defunding the police refers to the idea that police budgets should be downsized and the money divided among underfunded social services. Reallocation of funds occurs every year in Newton when new city budgets are proposed. Defund NPD believes the Newton police department is overfunded, while other necessary services—such as public health, parks and recreation, Historic Newton, and education—are underfunded.
Newton’s current 2021 budget proposal is an important line of focus for Defund NPD. It includes $22.9 million for police and only $5.8 million for the library, $6.5 million for parks and recreation, and $4.7 million for public health. On its website, Defund NPD expresses indignation over the fact that the police budget is four times the size of the public health budget in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. While it is true that the police budget is significantly larger than the Public Health budget in this proposal, it should be noted that the former is set to increase by 1% and the latter by 5%.
Regarding this year's presidential election, Defund NPD celebrated "the end to the current fascist regime," but also pointed out that the road ahead will be difficult. Biden and Harris have committed to fighting systemic racism but also have a history of pro-police policy. Therefore, Defund NPD recognizes that its work in the community is as pressing as ever.
Incremental reforms within police departments have long been advocated as an alternative to defunding departments altogether. However, Defund NPD points out that the Minneapolis Police Department implemented some of these small-scale changes, including requirements of de-escalation and of warning before shooting, prior to the murder of George Floyd. According to Defund NPD, this demonstrates that proposals of police reform are insufficient to address larger-scale issues concerning the role of police in communities.
The Newton community has responded to Defund NPD in a number of ways. Activist groups, as well as some residents and city councilors, have voiced their support for Defund NPD’s agenda. Of course, there is also some backlash at the notion of defunding the police in Newton. Many people, according to Defund NPD, cite their own positive experiences with police officers as proof that there is no need to defund police in Newton. However, the organization is after the system of policing, rather than the individual officers. Elianna Kruskal, a member of Defund NPD, responds to this line of thinking, saying, “The system is the problem and will always have intense negative impacts on our community regardless of the police officers participating in it.”
Defund NPD does not have any direct connection with Boston College, since BCPD operates independently from Newton PD. Within the BC community, however, there have been similar calls for police reform and, more broadly, racial justice reform. Over the summer, the Boston College group Faculty for Justice published an open letter to the community calling for a wide range of actions to increase diversity and decrease racial discrimination on campus. This letter mentions the defunding of BCPD in a way that would redistribute funding to emergency response teams comprised of mental health professionals and EMTs. While specific policies clearly look different for a college campus as opposed to the city of Newton, it is clear that the basic notions of police reform and budget reallocation exist in both places.
Currently, Defund NPD is focusing on both 2021 budget proposals and police contract negotiations. These closed-door contract negotiations have the potential to determine the fate of police budgets for years to come and could be finalized at any moment. The urgency of the organization's work is apparent, and it is always looking for more help. Defund NPD invites any interested activists to reach out on Instagram or Facebook.
Nobody has all the answers when it comes to police reform in America. Defund NPD is doing all it can to bring justice and necessary reform to the Newton community.
Editor's Note: This article was updated on 11/24 to reflect updates from Defund Newton PD.