The ongoing rebellion against the police, which was kicked off by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, has effectively generalized the demand to “defund the police.” This demand articulates an abolitionist politics that looks to build a world without police, a world where police are no longer necessary. The politics of reform has failed, as Mariame Kaba argues in a recent New York Times op-ed. “The surest way of reducing police violence is to reduce the power of the police, by cutting budgets and the number of officers.” Instead of spending that money on policing, it could be redirected toward other programs and necessary services like health care, education, and housing. “If we did this,” writes Kaba, “there would be less need for the police in the first place.”
Schools and colleges have been some of the first to respond to the demand to “defund the police.” Even before the Minneapolis city council announced its intention to “dismantle” the city’s police department, the Minneapolis public school system canceled its $1.1 million annual contract with the Minneapolis police department to provide them with “school resource officers.” Other school districts, including Seattle, Portland, Denver, have made similar moves. Meanwhile, the University of Minnesota cut some ties with the Minneapolis police department, like the contract for security at football games, concerts, and other large events. These moves effectively begin the process of draining resources from the police department, and freeing up money that could presumably be used to provide other kinds of support for students, teachers, and workers and support the educational mission of public schools and universities.
A recent incident at UCLA, in which Los Angeles police used the university’s baseball stadium parking lot as a staging area and a “field jail” to repress Black Lives Matter protesters (including UCLA students), has given rise to a campaign to cut ties with the LAPD. This is an important project, but it is important to remember that every UC campus also has its own police force, and that these police have been responsible for some of the most viral moments of police brutality in the last decade (remember the pepper-spray cop?), not to mention everyday forms of racism, harassment, and repression of students and workers. We should defund these police forces too, and redirect that money toward supporting the students and workers who embody the university’s educational mission. At a moment of unprecedented economic crisis, when the UC system and universities across the country are preparing for massive budget cuts, it could not be a better time to defund campus police.
A crucial first step to defunding UC police is figuring out how much money they have. For some reason, there’s been very little in depth reporting on these numbers since this blog has been in existence. One exception is an article from 2016 in the Daily Cal that looked into the funding of UC Berkeley’s police department from 2012-2016. Building on this approach, and following a suggestion from university budget guru Chris Newfield, we have pulled together the available data on UC police budgets across all campuses from the last ten years. These figures come from the UC’s campus financial schedules, specifically in Schedule B, where campus expenditures are documented. Currently, the website contains documentation for each campus for each of the last ten fiscal years, from 2009-10 to 2018-19. Figures for police are divided into four categories: “Salaries & Wages,” “All Other Expenses,” “Recharges,” and “Total.” The first two categories are self-explanatory, though the second is frustratingly vague. The third category, Recharges, refers to funds that are paid to campus police departments by other “university-affiliated departments.” In other words, Recharges are revenue transfers from one part of the university to the UC police. We will discuss these figures more below, but for now what is important about Recharges is that they represent revenue, and consequently the official accounting subtracts them from police expenditures and calls that result the “Total.” In other words, the Schedule B follows this formula:
Salaries & Wages + All Other Expenses – Recharges = Total
But that “Total” doesn’t actually account for the total police budget, what it costs to have all these campus police around. Whatever revenue the police happen to bring in in a given year, salaries still have to be paid, pepper spray still has to be purchased, and so on. So this accounting is misleading, because it uses Recharges to conceal part of what is actually spent on the campus police department. In reality, what the Schedule B calls “Total” is actually the net total, while the real total would be the sum of Salaries & Wages + All Other Expenses.
Except there’s one more caveat. As Chris Newfield explains, these figures only capture the “permanent budget,” which mean that they don’t include the money that was spent on large or unplanned protests, like when Milo showed up at Berkeley. These can be massive expenses. UC Berkeley spent $4 million on police during a single month of “free speech” events, including that Milo photo-op, in 2017. More recently, UC Santa Cruz spent at least $5.7 million on police during the wildcat strike/COLA campaign on that campus. This money is not reflected in the Schedule B’s, and, unfortunately, we don’t know how to track it down.
Still, studying the permanent budget is still useful, offering a baseline by which to understand the expansion of the UC police and to imagine how these resources might be repurposed. We have adapted the categories in the Schedule B to reflect this analysis, and consequently use the following formulas and categories:
Salaries & Wages + All Other Expenses – Recharges = Net Total
Salaries & Wages + All Other Expenses = Total Base Expenditures (or Permanent Police Budget)The full dataset, which includes Salaries & Wages, All Other Expenses, Recharges, Net Total, and Total Base Expenditures for all ten years, is available here. In what follows, we pull out and analyze some parts of the data on UC police spending. The following table contains the Total Base Expenditures (in millions) for each campus over the last ten years.
Overall, between 2009-10 and 2018-19, Total Base Expenditures across all campuses jumped from $75.3 million in 2009-10 to $138.2 million in 2018-19, an increase of $62.9 million (84%). At half of the system’s ten campuses, police budgets have more than doubled; at UC Irvine, the budget approaches tripling. Even campuses with relatively smaller increases in police spending, like UC Berkeley, stand out in that the total increase is significant—just the increase in the police budget at Berkeley over the last ten years is greater than the entire budget at seven campuses at the start of the period. Taken together, these figures suggest a ramping up of police capacity across the UC system and especially at campuses that began this period with smaller police budgets and consequently smaller police forces.
It is also important to remember that the campus is a relatively porous unit; UC police from one campus are regularly deployed to other campuses during protests or major events. From this perspective, all campus police budgets within the UC system can be understood as corresponding to a single unit. And within this unit, overall police budgets have jumped by 84% in the last decade. It is worth noting the period documented here, which begins in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, is marked by the imposition of harsh austerity measures as well as sustained protest movements by students and workers. In this context, the growth of police budgets makes little sense from the perspective of the universities’ instruction and research missions, but quite a bit of sense from the perspective of university administrators, who are fully conscious of protesters’ capacity to throw a wrench in their plans.
Beyond tracking the growth of police spending in the UC system, we can also consider where these funds were directed. Unfortunately, as explained above, the Schedule B only includes two very general categories: Salaries & Wages and All Other Expenses. But even these categories could be revealing. On the one hand, rising salaries could suggest pay raises for or increased hiring of officers. On the other hand, growing “other expenses” might suggest equipment purchases or an expanding physical footprint on campus. A relative emphasis toward either one of these categories could offer a sense of how the police force on that campus is changing. We’ve broken down the numbers (in thousands of dollars) in the table below. You can see how salaries represent a significant majority of the increase at UC San Francisco (68%) and UC Santa Barbara (58%), while “other expenses” represent a significant majority at UC Santa Cruz (74.2%), UC Berkeley (68%), UC Davis (66%), and UCLA (61%). The generality of the categories means there’s not a lot of clarity, but the numbers still offer an overall sense of the direction of the spending and could help to formulate more concrete questions about how the money is being used.
An additional consideration is the growth of “Recharges.” To reiterate, recharges are funds that are paid to UC police by other “university-affiliated departments,” which means that they constitute a transfer of money from one part of the university to another. What do UC police make this money from? According to the Daily Cal, recharges for UC Berkeley’s police department come from “security services, such as security presence for more than 400 events each year including football games, concerts and campus events in general. In addition, UCPD charges for other procedures, such as key card access, alarms, fingerprinting and background checks in hiring.” More details can be found in this official listing of “UC Police Services Recharge Rates.”
What has happened with UC police recharges over the last decade? As the table below indicates, they have grown significantly. Across campuses, recharges (in thousands of dollars; they're negative because they represent revenue) have grown from $21.2 million in 2009-10 to $45.8 million in 2018-19, an increase of 116%. That means that UC police forces are currently generating $45.8 million in annual revenue. At UCLA, recharges have increased by 110%; at UC Berkeley, by 150%; at UC Riverside, by 188%; at UCSF, by 229%; and at UC Irvine, by an astonishing 562%. (Unfortunately, some of the percentages in the table don’t give an accurate sense of the change, either because of a mysterious decline in 2018-19, as at UC Santa Barbara, or because of very small starting amounts, as at UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz.) Since the revenue in question comes from other parts of the university, the rise in Recharges could indicate a draining of resources away from, among other things, the universities’ instructional and research operations and toward its policing function.
The data suggests that UC police are acting increasingly as revenue-seeking units within the university in crisis. (Despite clear differences, there is an interesting resonance here with what Jackie Wang, in her book Carceral Capitalism, calls “policing as plunder,” by which cities have used their police departments to generate much-needed revenues to balance municipal budgets on the backs of poor and racialized residents.) In recent years, and especially following the 2008 financial crisis, university administrators have doubled down on seeking out new opportunities to generate revenues and cut costs. Although they are not generating nearly enough revenue to balance university budgets, UC police still reflect and participate in both of these administrative projects in interesting ways. On the one hand, they are themselves becoming generators of revenue, thereby subsidizing their own operations like other academic units are encouraged to do (though here they act parasitically on those units); on the other hand, as they do so, they expand their capacity to enforce UC administrators’ imposition of austerity and insulate those administrators from the protests these measures likely provoke. The UC administration’s risk management framework contributes to this dynamic by aiming not strictly to prohibit but to optimize risk and the potential profits that risk entails. For example, changes to university policies requiring a police presence at certain kinds of events might serve most directly to help the administration “manage” risk while at the same time indirectly underwriting the growth of UC police revenues and expanding police capacity.
Defunding the UC police would be a meaningful step toward a world without police. It would eliminate a set of institutions with a history of brutally repressing student and worker protest, and free up $138.2 million for other uses that support or even reimagine the UC’s educational mission—especially in a moment of serious budget crisis. In this way, the abolition of campus police could also contribute to the creation of a different kind of university for a different kind of world.
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Again, feel free to consult and download the UC police expenditures dataset and play around with it. And please help us answer the questions we still have about these numbers, like
- How much money was spent on UC police beyond what is accounted for in the Schedule B?
- What is included in “Other Expenses,” and what is the specific breakdown of these expenses at each campus?
- What is the specific breakdown of “Recharges” at each campus?