10 of the U.S.’s largest cities will spend more on policing than public health during Fiscal Year 2021. Combined, these 10 cities’ policing budgets are 3.6 times greater than public health department budgets. Public health departments are generally tasked with aiding vaccine distribution, combating foodborne illnesses, homelessness and environmental toxins, and supporting addiction treatment, among other health-promoting activities. In addition, nearly two-thirds of Americans live in counties that spend more than twice as much on policing as they spend on nonhospital healthcare, which includes public health.
Georgia’s COVID data task force was disassembled due to a lack of funds, and the state slashed its Fiscal Year 2022 public health budget by $7 million. Meanwhile, district and county health departments in Alabama were operating at 65 percent capacity in 2019 relative to 2010. Some county health departments in North Carolina offer such low salaries that they are unable to fill vacancies for public health nursing positions.
1,900 people have died from COVID-19 in Houston, Texas, the U.S.’s most diverse and fourth most populous city. Roughly 1.4 million people (19.7 percent of the city’s population) are without health insurance, and multiple hospitals’ ICUs have been at capacity for months. Yet, the city’s police department budget for 2021 is 10 times greater than the Houston Health Department’s budget, with the police allotted nearly $1 billion and the health department $100 million.
Arizona’s health budget is just two-thirds of Phoenix’s police department budget. Phoenix does not have its own health department.
Police budgets don’t always reflect the full extent of a department’s power or presence. For instance, the Los Angeles Public Library reimburses the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) for millions of dollars in services, which is not reflected in the LAPD’s $1.9 billion budget.
Rather than cut the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD’s) budget following the Black liberation uprising of 2020, New York City transferred funds for school resource officers — school police — to the Department of Education budget, an act of subterfuge.
The Federal 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, co-authored by Joe Biden and signed by then-President Bill Clinton, allocated $12 billion in state subsidies for prison construction, prioritizing states with the harshest sentencing laws.