In recent months, many legislators and citizens have been calling for the police to be defunded. Some of those calling for the police to be defunded want the funds typically allotted to police departments to be routed to agencies that are better equipped to handle specific types of emergencies, like mental health crises. However, a new study has been published that has been peer-reviewed that found calls coming into the police aren’t easily transferable to other sectors without significant expenditures and adjustments.
The study found that the number and types of incidents the police are called for are voluminous. Most of the calls that come into police departments around the country are not transferable to other organizations or government sectors without significant expenditures of resources or adjustments in the scope of police work. Researchers at George Mason University conducted the study.
Cynthia Lum, Professor of criminology, law, and society at George Mason University and lead study author, said that if calls for service are diverted away from the police, substantial investments in other social service agencies or the creation of entirely new entities would be required to handle the call volume. Lum and colleagues analyzed almost 4.3 million 911 calls for service across diverse regions over a year, typically 2016 to 2017 for most jurisdictions.
They used computer-aided dispatch data from nine US law enforcement agencies, with all but one of the agencies located in large jurisdictions. Most of the agencies had populations of 400,000 or more, and some of the jurisdictions were urban, some were suburban and rural. The study noted that call volume fell within a range of 1 to 2 calls per person each year on average for the jurisdictions. Of the 14 general categories calls fell into, the most common were identified, including traffic-related problems, routine disputes, concerns about suspicious behavior, disorders, disturbance, and general requests for help making up the majority of categories.
The study also found that contrary to perceptions, calls related to mental distress made up only a small fraction of all the cost of police at approximately 1.3 percent of calls across the nine agencies. In addition, across most agencies, the study found that only a small share of calls for service resulted in citations or arrests. That means diverting minor and otherwise noncriminal problems from the police to other agencies is unlikely to reduce the number of arrests. The study authors note that if police retain the resources and responsibilities they currently have, they would need to reconsider how they handle public calls to address concerns from the community.