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Police are often the biggest expense in a city budget. But after the video of George Floyd's death was seen around the world, calls for reforms and defunding police budgets are escalating across the country. Some departments vow to make changes. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.
CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: When the speakers hit the stage at a rally in Chicago's Union Park last night, their message was clear and quickly posted on social media.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We came here with demands. We didn't just come here to march. You came here to say defund the police. You came here to say Black Lives Matter.
CORLEY: Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, says she's heard the talk about defunding police departments. But when she's talked to people across the city during the tense times of recent weeks, she gets a different message.
LORI LIGHTFOOT: What I've heard from people in neighborhoods is that they want more police protection, not less.
CORLEY: For years, city leaders have grappled with how to address police abuse and how to make changes while keeping the public safe. The weeks of protests, the demand for defunding police departments, and the unrest that's left businesses vandalized or destroyed has forced city officials to think about how policing might be different. In Minneapolis, during an emergency meeting yesterday, the city council banned police from using chokeholds and neck restraints. Some city council members tweeted earlier that the police department should be dismantled and replaced with a new model of public safety. Council member Steve Fletcher, who likes that idea, says the community has to first weigh in.
STEVE FLETCHER: To really dig into what helps everybody feel safe - what do we like about our current system? What can we not tolerate about our current system? What can we envision as a future?
CORLEY: Jeremy Travis, a former deputy commissioner with the New York Police Department, sees the whole defunding effort quite differently.
JEREMY TRAVIS: This movement is a blunt instrument to bring about change.
CORLEY: Blunt, says Travis, because it's not specific about what does or does not work in police departments.
TRAVIS: So the risk is that the police budget will be cut, and you won't get the calls for reform they're asking for.
CORLEY: The NAACP released a list of what it wants to see. It includes a use-of-force continuum for police departments with clear rules for escalation. It calls for citizen review boards to hold police accountable. And each state's Open Records Act would ensure that a police officer's misconduct information or disciplinary history could not be hidden from the public. A coalition of groups in Los Angeles rallied calling for cuts in the police budget and more spending on health care and community programs. The mayor agreed to cut up to $150 million from the police budget to pay for youth jobs and health initiatives. UCLA history professor Kelly Lytle Hernandez says the dollar amount may not be much when compared to the entire police budget of nearly 2 billion, but she calls it a turning point.
KELLY LYTLE HERNANDEZ: And this is really the first time that we've seen many people across the country - a broad-based support for moving money out of police and prisons and moving it into a social safety net.
CORLEY: Having a safety net is important, but you must have a plan before cutting police funding, says former police officer Peter Moskos. He's a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and says there are plenty of risks without police.
PETER MOSKOS: The idea that the community can better handle its own problems - I think people are going to be in for an unpleasant surprise, sometimes, at what - of how the community will actually take that power into its own hands.
CORLEY: Abolishing police altogether may not be what defunding advocates have in mind. However, as protests continue over the police killing of George Floyd and others, the defunding calls have put more of a spotlight on how law enforcement dollars are spent and how policing could change. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.
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