The uprisings in response to George Floyd’s murder by the Minneapolis police marked a clear demand from communities across the country: defund the police. Amidst these uprisings, the ACLU co-signed efforts calling for police divestment and community reinvestment.
Building on one of the Movement for Black Lives’ primary goals to, “invest in the education, health, and safety of Black people, instead of investing in the criminalizing, caging, and harming of Black people,” the ACLU acknowledged that divest/invest efforts “are necessary steps to prevent further harm and to restore the promise of our Constitution for all people.”
This how-to guide is part of the ACLU of Alabama’s shift to police divestment and community reinvestment organizing. The guidance and resources below aim to support Alabamians across the state in acquiring and analyzing their local municipal budget in pursuit of their own invest/divest organizing efforts.
How To: Acquire all budget documents
One of the first and possibly most challenging steps to police divestment organizing is acquiring the necessary budget documents. Many municipal budgets for major cities in Alabama, including Huntsville, Birmingham, and Montgomery are available on their respective city websites. However, many smaller cities and towns throughout Alabama don’t always have this information readily available online and require some extra steps to gather the information you need.
Click here to access the Alabama police budget database for your city or town. In the situation that your city or town’s budget isn’t available online, you may want to begin your search for this information with your city clerk and/or mayor’s office.
A note about public records: Public records are records held by the state government, which are presumed to be public under the Alabama Open Records Act. According to Alabama Code Section 36-12-40, "Every citizen has a right to inspect and take a copy of any public writing of this state, except as otherwise expressly provided by statute." Alabama law does not stipulate a particular method for submitting public information requests. Requests for public records of public agencies must be made directly to the agency in question. FOIA is the Federal Freedom of Information Act. Federal requests are made under FOIA, state requests are made under the Open Records Act.
How To: Analyze the overall budget
- Once you’ve acquired the necessary budget documents, take time to read through and make note of both the revenues and expenditures. Take note of how much of the total budget is allocated to policing. In the table below, you can see that in these four major Alabama cities—Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile, and Montgomery — the police budget is about 20% of each cities’ total budget if not more.
|City||Police Budget||Total Budget||Percent|
For additional support on how to read a municipal budget, click here to download the Community Resource Hub’s guide, “How to Take Back the Budget.” The Community Resource Hub for Safety and Accountability is an online platform that works to ensure all people have access to resources and tools to advocate for systems change and accountability in law enforcement.
How To: Compare police budget allocations
While examining your municipal budget’s revenue and expenditures, also consider comparing the police budget to other city expenditures such as schools, libraries, sanitation, and other public goods that improve quality of life. For example, in the 2020–2021 fiscal year, the City of Montgomery allocated 49 million dollars to policing but allocated only a mere 7 million to public libraries. In the chart below, take note of the funding disparities between policing and public goods.
Consider the adage, often attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King, that a budget is a moral document while comparing funding allocations to police and allocations to all other public goods. What do the following budget allocations say about the City of Montgomery’s priorities? How can investments in public goods impact public safety?
|Montgomery Budget Item||Total Cost|
How To: Consider alternatives
One of the major oppositions to police divestment is the issue of public safety. A common retort is that police divestment will lead to lawlessness and increased violence in our communities. However, the call to divest from police and reinvest in communities aims to address the root causes of violence in our communities by addressing public safety needs with real solutions. For example, in areas with high incidents of theft or break-ins, a common response is to increase surveillance and police in the community. This type of response typically compounds the problem because it ignores the root cause and instead increases the criminalization of working-class and BIPOC communities. The divest/invest approach allows us to consider how investing in public goods like healthcare, jobs, infrastructure, libraries, and much more can offer opportunities, change behavior, and shift community culture for the long term.
In Alabama, we know that our state relies on increased punishment, as outlined in our Statehouse-to-Prison Pipeline report, to address Alabamians' everyday needs. The call to divest from police and invest in the community breaks the cycle of criminalization and punishment and looks toward creating meaningful processes, tools, and responses to our everyday public safety needs. The chart below outlines one common public safety need. Explore the chart below and take note of both what police are legally allowed to do and what police have been known to do when called upon for the following public safety need.
When you call the police to report...
(“lawful” policies + practices)
(violent + harmful practices)
|Someone who is homeless and is existing on private/public property|
*In July 2019, the Montgomery City Council passed an ordinance requiring mandatory jail time for people who panhandle in the city. The ordinance was repealed in December 2019 after a lawsuit filed by Southern Poverty Law Center, ACLU of Alabama, and the National Homelessness Law Center.
Considering the often violent and harmful approaches to this and other public safety needs, the ACLU of Alabama is committed to minimizing interactions between the community and police.
What can community members do to address this public safety need without police? Brainstorm what tools, resources, or practices can be developed in responding to this public safety need.
How To: Create and practice alternatives with your community
- The ACLU of Alabama recognizes that divest/invest efforts should be led by community members directly impacted by policing and criminalization and therefore encourage Alabamians across the state to find fellow community members who are also interested in addressing public safety issues through a police divestment and community investment approach.
- Organizer and survivors’ advocate, Mariame Kaba has shared that everything worthwhile is worth doing with other people. Divestment and community reinvestment are not overnight solutions to police violence or public safety problems. These worthwhile efforts are worth doing with other people in your community who want to examine root causes of public safety problems and experiment with alternatives to police that address those root causes.
- Across Alabama, communities are exploring and creating alternatives to police. In Montgomery, SONG MGM members are working to define what #SafetyIs as part of the #WeKeepUsSafe campaign. In Birmingham, the People’s Budget is articulating what public goods need to be funded. And the Pan-Alabama Bail Network is creating statewide infrastructure for communities to bail out their people. For support on invest/divest organizing efforts in your community, please contact Organizing and Outreach Manager, Stef Bernal-Martinez: [email protected]