Does Reimagining Public Safety Mean Defunding the Police?

Jan 28, 2021 - 12:51 pm


The short answer is no. Reimagining Public Safety is a holistic, multi-faceted initiative involving much more than just policing.  That said, the phrase means different things to different people, so let’s unpack the details. 

History of the term “defunding the police” 

This term started to become widely known in the early summer of 2020, following several incidents in which the actions of police officers led to the death or serious injury of residents, oftentimes from African American and other communities of color. The most well-known of these incidents was the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in May 2020, which was captured on video. 

These events spawned massive street protests all over the United States and even in other countries. “Defunding the police” became a rallying cry for many protestors, including those from the Black Lives Matter and Movement for Black Lives groups.  

As a concept, “defunding the police” represents a big-picture desire to reduce or reallocate police funding to other social services such as mental health treatment, education, healthcare, housing, and poverty remediation. For some, it means relatively small to incremental police budget re-allocations, while to others it means significant reductions and even the elimination of police departments as they are known today.  

Because ”defund the police” means different things to different people and communities, and because it does not refer to a specific policy or platform of specific actions, “defunding the police” can be misleading when it is used in reference to the actions of any governmental entity. 

Reimagining Public Safety in Austin 

In light of the recurring incidents of police related violence and its disproportionate impact on communities of color in Austin and nationwide, the Austin City Council passed a series of transformative resolutions aimed at public safety reform. Those resolutions, along with on-going police reform initiatives implemented before 2020 form the foundation of the City’s Reimagining Public Safety (RPS) framework.  The goal of RPS is to re-think, and in some cases, re-design public safety resources to eliminate service disparities across communities and meet the needs of all residents equitably. 

That means making organizational, cultural changes, and updates/modifications to policies and procedures to enhance public safety services.  That includes:  New approaches to eliminate practices and training which support a culture of discrimination and bias, investing in stronger mental crisis and general public response systems to bridge gaps long covered by the City’s public safety entities, improving police-community relationships, and much more. 

Resources for further reading

We have a lot of resources to help you better understand all the facets of Austin’s RPS efforts, starting right here on the RPS website which is serves as a one-stop-shop information hub. Here is a rundown of the sections of the site you might want to check regularly: 

About tab: Provides an overview of the RPS initiative including key teams and their efforts 

Reforms tab: Covers the specific actions that the City is undertaking 

Documents tab: Contains reports, memos, and other records  

Share Input tab: Offers residents the opportunity to ask questions and provide their input 

 Stay tuned for more blog posts that cover other aspects of this important initiative!