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Recent nationwide protests against police use of force and perceptions of systemic racism in law enforcement in the United States have sparked renewed conversation about problems in the U.S. criminal justice system. Much of this conversation has been focused on the idea of "defunding the police." In this Perspective, the authors describe police leaders' and practitioners' views on defunding the police — that is, budgeting less money for police and more for other public safety strategies — and explain why revisiting the role of law enforcement in society could have broader appeal than some think. To do this, the authors draw on experience in workshops held over the past seven years by the Priority Criminal Justice Needs Initiative. In these workshops, police leaders and practitioners have voiced frustration with being the default party that is expected to respond to many complex social problems, such as homelessness, substance use, and mental health crises. Practitioners argue that nonenforcement strategies are often more effective than policing in solving many of these problems. Therefore, the authors suggest that there might be significant law enforcement support for some "defunding" strategies — as long as these efforts relieve some of the unrealistic expectations on police. The authors also describe current police functions that could be reassigned to other community partners, discuss factors that communities must consider if they choose to reallocate police functions, and note evidence of broader support for such reforms in the general population.

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Funding for this research was provided by gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations. The research was conducted by the Justice Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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