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WARTEL: Defund the police

It’s time to consider how slashing police budgets could better improve communities

<p>Police don’t keep us safe, they leech off public funding so that they can hold on to their power to intimidate and harass community members.</p>

Police don’t keep us safe, they leech off public funding so that they can hold on to their power to intimidate and harass community members.

From the state level to the municipal level and even the University-level, police departments in Virginia are budget-draining, malicious organizations. Rather than protecting the public, they primarily exist to drain resources from the community while enforcing racist control of spaces. At every level that police exist, it’s important to fight to have police budgets concretely diminished, while diverting resources to important public goods that actually keep people safe.

Student organization U.Va. Beyond Policing and community organization Defund Cville Police recently held a rally in response to the murder of 18-year old Xavier Hill by Virginia State Troopers. It was just the latest in an ever-growing list of police murdering Black men. Over the past year, there have been a number of incidents in the Charlottesville area involving various police agencies. Earlier this year, Charlottesville Police racially profiled and attacked a Black man. This was preceded by an instance of police harassment back in November on the Corner by both University and Charlottesville Police. Yet another incident occurred last October involving the harassment of local members of the Unitarian Universalist Church and there was even an attack on a homeless man by police last July.

As they continue to attack community members, the common position is that, despite missteps, police are necessary to protect us — this isn’t the case though. When Nazis came to Charlottesville, the police famously failed to “protect citizens from harm, injury, and death.” At a broad level, there’s no correlation between more police and less crime. If large police budgets aren’t actually keeping us safe, then it’s time to divert a considerable amount of it to other public services.

Beyond instituting racialized violence, the police are just massive resource drains on our communities. Money that could be better spent on housing, education, public transportation or community safety is instead funnelled to the ballooning police budgets. The Virginia State Police has a total budget of $395 million, $160 million of which is for highway patrol. The University Police Department’s budget is $7.53 million. However, because budgets are often left up to municipalities, the largest comparative drain on resources is often at the city level. For example, whereas the state and University spend too much on police, they spend relatively little compared to the bigger budgets. Conversely, in Charlottesville, the city police department budget for 2021 is nearly $18 million dollars, accounting for almost 10% of the total city budget. As such, cutting the CPD budget by 20, 30 or even 50 percent is an important goal.

It’s responsible budgeting to question the use of bloated police budgets. Even challenging the assumption that the University and State need to spend millions on police is important. Current conversations about budgeting in Charlottesville prove that the first thing to be cut should be the police. The pandemic has left the City in a precarious financial position. The threat of budget shortfall means that plans for capital improvement are faced with serious challenges. For example, the current plan puts significant money into housing, education and transportation — real public goods that improve our city. However, more revenue is likely needed and an obvious way to reallocate resources is by cutting millions from the Charlottesville Police Department. Using this money for improved housing, education and transportation are things that will actually help our city, thus making it safer and a better place to live. The most recent budget for Charlottesville proposes raising the police budget by $1 million dollars to $19 million. The possibilities for how to better use this money are numerous, not least of all improving public defense.

Likewise, UPD is not here to keep students safe. As has been pushed by Student Council, Beyond Policing and other groups, reallocating the money we throw away at police to Counseling & Psychological Services — or even to pay custodial workers a living wage — is a better use of money. It represents a focus on priorities that support students' mental health over the need for a campus police department.

Police don’t keep us safe, they leech off public funding so that they can hold on to their power to intimidate and harass community members. At every level of government, they are an impediment to public safety. But they also hamper the better possibilities we all need from our government. Struggling over the budget of police departments reveal priorities of local governments especially. By fighting for defunding the police, we can simultaneously fight to refund public transportation, housing, education and our communities. 

Jacob Wartel is a Viewpoint Writer for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at

The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.