As I continue to learn more about the Defund the Police movement, I’ve recognized more and more that words mean different things to different people. Defund the police, to some people, might sound like a movement to abolish the police and live in a world without cops. However, if we were to dive deeper into the movement, we can see the reason for the movement and if it has any merit. This was the guiding question I and my team at ParsonsTKO & Techsoup Data Strategy and Mentorship Program tried to answer the best way we know how, using data.
Certain people are arguing that police budgets are bloated, and it’s not really fighting crime. Some of this money should go to social services to increase the life standard of minority groups, which can naturally lead to a decrease in the crime rate.
https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2020/06/19/what-does-defund-the-police-mean-and-does-it-have-merit/. I strongly urge reading this article as it helps a lot in trying to understand the merit of the movement.
One of the first challenges of trying to understand the merit of any movement via data analytics is to get the appropriate data. You can get a better understanding of the process by clicking this article of my peer Jonathan which talks more in-depth about how we got the data, and how we cleaned it for our further analysis. Juliana Albertini was able to find data for crime rate from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, The Tax Policy Center, including arrests, convictions, and prison sentences nationally from 1994–2016.
While trying to visualize our data, we must keep in mind the questions we’re looking to answer through our data and what story our data visualizations are telling us about the data.
First and foremost, when we try to find the most important question surrounding Defund the Police, we think of the question Higher police spending > Less crime? This question can be answered by one of our first visualizations early on in the project.
While they increased at a similar rate between 1995–2005, police expenditure continued to rise after 2010, while arrests and sentences decreased. We’ve seen a drop in crime after 2009 even when the police expenditure kept increasing for years. So, even though there are always other things to consider, for example, the great depression of 2008–09 and Obama’s first term 20019–2012, we’ve seen that this correlation doesn’t make sense for any year after 2009 and while trying to find out, why this is the case, we came to see one of the more prominent claims of the “Defund the Movement” in action. It should not be a surprise after we merge these results from another one of our visualizations by Timo. (see below)
We have come to see a lot of difference between the ethnicity of a certain place and the corresponding police expenditure the place has, from the visualization our team has made with appropriate data.
This graph, coupled with the last one, paints a picture that More Cops = Less Crime is not always true, in fact, there’s a bias of the police expenditure of a place, based on the ethnicity of people living there.
This suggests more and more that a better variable to determine what contributes to crime rate is not as much the police expenditure but more the money that goes into social services, which tends to be higher in the community with more white population ( We do not see this trend with any other ethnic group).
Needless to say, correlation does not imply causation. Hence, more and more of these visualizations should be made, not just by students interested in building a project with data but with professionals in the government trying to find out the reason the crime rate keeps going higher even with increased police expenditure. One thing that is clear is, just by increasing police funding we cannot expect the crime to decrease with it.
We will have to put more resources into the social services department and relieve some of the duties of the police which they are not trained for, to not just decrease the crime rate of a specific place but also to close the racial bias that still persists in the United States to this day.
I hope we all learn something from the article, not just about Defund the Police movement but also how data can be used to answer a lot of questions and could be used to help see the merit of any movement. You are always better off with data to make better decisions. More about this, in our group presentation on 08/26/20. Click here. ( Free to register).