'Defund the Police' Should Include Federal Cops Too

Federal spending on policing has quadrupled since the 1980s, while state and local spending has increased by about one-third.


Protesters demanding policing reforms are understandably focused on increasing accountability and slashing police budgets at the state and local levels.

But the call to "defund the police" should not ignore the large and growing presence (and expense) of federal law enforcement in recent decades—and would-be reformers should be careful not to hand-over more power to federal agencies that will be more difficult to hold accountable than local departments.

Federal police spending has skyrocketed since the 1980s, notes Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies for the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. The federal government's police budget includes includes grants for local and state police departments, though that is a small portion of overall spending. The vast majority funds traditional federal law enforcement offices like the FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency, as well as the Secret Service, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, which tracks spending on all government programs, federal police spending averaged about 0.05 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) during the 1980s, and climbed to about 0.1 percent of GDP on average during the 1990s. Over the past decade, however, federal spending on police has averaged 0.26 percent of GDP.

"This spending has risen much faster than state‐​local police spending in recent decades," writes Edwards. "That is a big concern if you believe in federalism and decentralized government."

It's true that state and local governments spend a larger portion of their budgets on policing. It was a member of the Minneapolis Police Department who brutally killed George Floyd last month, and it was local and state police who were responsible for manybut not all—of the subsequent displays of police brutality aimed at protesters. It makes sense that local policing is more in the spotlight at the moment.

But that doesn't mean federal police forces should be exempt from reforms. Indeed, their growth in recent decades suggests they could be due for some budget-trimming too.

Unfortunately, the opposite seems to be happening. The Justice in Policing Act, which was introduced by House Democrats this week, would expand the role of the federal government in doing police work—and would hike federal police spending by $900 million.

Worse, perhaps, is the fact that the bill's most high-profile police accountability measure—ending the legal regime of "qualified immunity" that protects officers from being held civilly liable for damage or injuries they cause while on the job—applies only to local law enforcement and not to federal officers that are part of the FBI or CPB, for example.

An expanded, unaccountable role for federal law enforcement is hardly the appropriate response to problems with state and local police forces. As Derek Cohen, the policy director for Right On Crime, a conservative police reform advocacy group based in Texas, explained on Twitter, federal intervention in local policing issues should be a last resort. And a top-down approach is unlikely to encourage reforms.

To put it another way, if you think forcing a citywide police department to change its ways is tough, wait until you're dealing with the federal government.

Slowing the growth of spending on federal police and shrinking the mandate given to federal law enforcement is, in many ways, a separate project from the one currently underway in cities across the country. But if Congress wants to get involved in fixing what's wrong with America's police departments, it should not turn a blind eye to federal law enforcement budgets that are directly under its control.

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  1. Beyond include, defunding should begin with federal cops!

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  2. Remove the entire ATF to start.

    1. Start with the FBI. Trump already hates those guys, I think.

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    2. An excellent place to start:

      “So You Think Tyranny Can’t Happen Here?

      When discussing government overreach, which continues unimpeded, or the danger of the monopoly of force concentrated in the hands of government by way of law enforcement, especially from federal police, particularly the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF),…”


  3. To free up the demand for so much federal law enforcement, you could always end the War on Drugs. But of course libertarians are silent on the subject.

    1. Rainman LIVES!

    2. Transfer the agents from DEA and the ATF to the Border Patrol. Start kicking out people in this country illegally. When illegal aliens march, direct them toward the border and keep them marching.

  4. How much of this increase was Obama arming damn near every federal agency for the stated purpose of buying up all the pistols and ammo in the country to keep it out of the hands of the citizens?
    We only need one armed federal cop agency.

    1. https://www.eenews.net/special_reports/epa_fugitives/stories/1059944877
      The warning serves as a reminder of the risks faced each day by the approximately 200 special agents who work in EPA’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, Forensics and Training (OCEFT). But a more profound testament to the danger EPA’s law enforcement officers face is located at the agency’s headquarters office in Washington, D.C. That is where OCEFT keeps a plaque that honors the agents who have died while on active duty.

      In the 27 years since EPA’s criminal investigators were given law enforcement powers and began carrying a badge and gun, three agents have made the ultimate sacrifice. Those three are special agents Dave DeLitta, Bill Parr and Tim Fidel. OCEFT’s losses over the past three decades equal that of the Capitol Police Department, an agency that is nine times its size.

      And while other local law enforcement agencies like the Secret Service and Metropolitan Police Department experienced higher losses, OCEFT’s acting deputy director, Doug Parker, said last week the three deaths are “three too many.”

      “Like any police officer I think [OCEFT agents] do have a tough job, a dangerous job,” said Texas-based criminal defense lawyer Walter James, who specializes in environmental law and has gone up against EPA and its special agents numerous times over the years.

      1. Sorry for their losses. They still shouldn’t have their own cops.

        Call out the Marshals or, and this might cause fainting in Federal office buildings, they could try working with local law enforcement agencies (or even talking to them), if they think they need LE assistance and have reason to think state criminal laws have also been broken.

      2. it should have been 3000 not just 3

  5. This is true. Why the hell does Social Security have their own police and firearm budget? But let’s not just pick on cops here. Each agency is a sausage that is overstuffed with low quality product doing worthless and often harmful tasks. Meanwhile, let’s make everyone in Congress cut their staff to a secretary and one assistant. The number and size of their laws would drop to single digits, and they could then be held personally responsible for what they write.

    1. The Education Department is the one that stood out to me.

    2. I read a pretty compelling article that if there is one place we should grow, it is in congressional aides. Evidently, the amount of staff for congress has gone down over the years. And so when it comes to researching and writing legislation, that stuff often gets pushed out to lobbyists and ideological think tanks.

      1. How about adding representatives to the House? Make districts much smaller.

    3. All great ideas. They also would have to personally meet with all the special interest groups. There wouldn’t be enough time in the world for each congressman to actually get anything done. It would be harder for those groups to coordinate congress people to get the votes and legislation they want.

  6. If anything, start with federal law enforcement. One can make an argument for the need for local cops. There is literally no excuse for any kind of federal law enforcement. 99% of the federal laws and regulations are unconstitutional anyway.

    1. Well no. That’s just stupid. There are many reasons for federal cops who can investigate and otherwise work across municipal and state lines, and call in resources to work interstate crimes in small communities whose law enforcement expertise begins with Andy Taylor and ends with Barney Fife. It also serves as a communication hub and knowledge base for state and local law enforcement.

      However, I don’t see any necessity for more than just the FBI and the Treasury Department. If there are federal crimes committed [and there are plenty of constitutionally chargeable federal crimes], such as mail fraud, financial crimes, border crimes, treason, to name a few, these need to remain under federal jurisdiction and beyond the scope of local politicians. But these can call in those couple of federal police forces to assist in apprehension.

      Serious as shit, I don’t want my local cops whose expertise ends at domestic disturbance or even burglary put in charge of something like catching and prosecuting Bernie Madoff.

      1. As a libertarian I must disagree with you but I understand your thinking is more typical. Most people think like this! I don’t blame you.

        But, sorry I believe the SEC is unconstitutional and thus no federal jurisdiction ‘prosecute’ Bernie Madoff.

      2. Not the F.B.I. !! (The last letter is investigation, not shooting)
        Federal marshal’s service. Period.
        Everybody else can use them if they have a really good case.
        By having to present a case to the marshal, it might stop a lot of shoddy arrests.

  7. We should definitely defund any federal agency dedicated to that alt-right white nationalist concept known as “border security.”


    1. So you’re saying landmines are cheaper?

      1. Let’s face it; border security is a military matter.

  8. The Justice in Policing Act … would expand the role of the federal government in doing police work—and would hike federal police spending by $900 million.

    Hence the name of the bill: “The GYP Act”.

  9. Amid calls for police reform, new dataset shows where police money has flowed in Congress

    Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who has come under recent scrutiny for her record on police violence as lead prosecutor in Hennepin County, is one of the senators with the most contributions from police union and law enforcement PACs.

    Klobuchar did not bring charges in more than two dozen cases of officer-involved fatalities during her prosecutorial tenure. Klobuchar, along with fellow Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) is now calling for an investigation by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division into the “patterns and practices of racially discriminatory and violent policing in the Minneapolis Police Department” in a letter to Attorney General William Barr.

  10. Because THAT’S the problem with the poorly thought-out #defundpolice movement. It’s not thinking big enough.

    1. The idea of defunding the police..period…is an absolutely stupid idea. Cops are needed around, whether people like them or not. There has to be a radical change in the cop culture, and radical reform of police unions and police departments throughout the United States in order to force police departments to hold cops in their flanks accountable if and when they abuse their power, especially when they engage in racially/ethnically discriminatory behaviors and actions.

      1. We can certainly shrink police departments and the size and scope of federal police powers, but step one in that process is not “Slash funding.”

        Step one is in figuring out how to reduce the number of laws you need enforced at the point of a gun. You decide that you don’t need vice squads and narcotics units. You don’t need to send police every time some woman in NYC is complaining that a black man asked her to leash her fucking dog. You don’t pass gun laws that require police to frisk everyone one the street to see if they’re violating your gun laws.

        Once you figure out where you’re stripping out the policing, THEN you cut funds because you don’t need that part of our lives policed anymore. And then you start looking into some other reforms as well, ensuring police are trained in simple things like de-escalation and how to respect civil rights. Then you can make them forfeit their military equipment because they aren’t supposed to act like the military.

        1. We can certainly shrink police departments

          Can we? Our police departments are not really any larger, per capita, than those in developed countries. Berlin has 459 cops/100k population, London 358, Paris 515, and Tokyo 311. NYC has 423, Chicago 439, L.A. 246, Houston 222, D.C. 551.

          Perhaps, instead of regularly comparing our current violent crime rates to the 1990s, we should compare them to current rates in civilized countries, and enlarge our police departments until we have violent crime under what a developed nation would consider “control”.

  11. Modern transportation and communication capabilities have made the reasons (excuses) for city, state, and federal police agencies obsolescent. This vertical dispersion of agencies could, now, be easily integrated under directly elected and locally accountable sheriffs.

  12. Yes, reduce it by about 100%. Maybe keep some Marshals?

  13. If we do away with the police, who’s going to keep us safe from criminals?

    “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

    There’s your answer. Sounds to me that if the security of the state is imperiled, you should have not only a right but an obligation to carry a weapon. All able-bodied adults are part of the militia, give everybody a badge and require everybody to carry a weapon.

    1. Sounds reasonable to me. However, there are more than a few of my neighbors I would neither want or trust to have my 6. And many of them would simply turn into a puddle of goo if you put a gun in their hand. 50 years ago, this was probably a great solution. Now most of our millennials can’t cook a baked potato or drive a stick shift car.

      Hitler in Mein Kampf understood the public he was dealing with and it’s not that different here and now: “The broad masses of the people are not …persons who are able to form reasoned judgment in given cases, but a vacillating crowd of human children who are constantly wavering between one idea and another. The great majority of a nation is so feminine in its character and outlook that its thought and conduct are ruled by sentiment rather than by sober reasoning.”

      1. Now most of our millennials can’t cook a baked potato or drive a stick shift car.

        Their farrier skills are also woefully underdeveloped too, right?


      2. Wait so 50 years ago it was a great solution because people weren’t going to turn into a puddle of goo, but 80 years ago when hitler was bitching about the population being pussies it wasn’t a great solution?
        Who the fuck quotes mein kampf?

    2. Re-institute the draft, make it inclusive of the sexes, and send everybody through the MP courses, and pistol training. Then send them through the initial combat medic courses. After that make them choose; either re-enlist for 10 years, or resign. If they resign they keep the pistol and first aid kit. Benefits like retirement pay and medical care after resigning only go the to pros who stay in.
      You get a professional army, and a civilian population of trained first responders.

    3. Police don’t exist to keep us safe from criminals, they keep criminals safe from vigilante justice.

      As a society we decided that the death penalty should not be applied to things like theft, and that rather than guilt being assumed, it’s established by a reasonably fair trial.

  14. Fascist Antifa Seizes Seattle PD, Sets Up ‘Autonomous Zone’ Just Like ISIS, Asks for Armed Volunteers

    1. Surely you mean the Antifaschistische Junge Garde or the Kampfbund gegen den Faschismus

      1. The judges would have also accepted, Spartakusbund. Please remember to keep your answer in the form of a question. Rsteinmetz has control of the board…

  15. Start by repealing most Federal Criminal Laws. Surely some are necessary, but there was a time when a making a “Federal Crime” of something meant something. Today pretty much everything is a Federal Crime.

    1. And not to mention nearly all these federal laws are unconstitutional.

    2. Yes let’s repeal federal criminal laws like murder and rape. sex crimes against children, sex trafficking. We don’t need to prosecute those crimes. We can work it out through counseling and social work. I’m sure Ted Bundy just needed someone to listen.

  16. This debate is getting just like the debate about nationalized healthcare: the very people demanding it will least like the results if they get their way.

  17. I know it’s a longshot, but does anyone live near Seattle? What the fuck does this Autonomous Zone bullshit look like? Do they have armed guards patrolling the borders?

  18. Why do libertarians keep writing articles like this? We all know the problem, government initiating force. We all know the solution, apply the NAP. We’re talking about the symptoms not the disease. It’s mental masturbation.

  19. So, NYPD Blue is no longer the top running re-run, this anti-police hysteria will run its course until the next season. This is the reality TV, this will happen, it always has. You’re only hearing from the ‘actors’ now, but when the crowds disperse, and the property owners sift through the rubble of their lives, the new season will be upon us with a new cast.

    No cohesive thought goes behind the mantra ‘Defund the Police’ other than to harmonize.

  20. When I heard the Dept of Education has Federal Officers I knew it was way out of hand. Other than the FBI, and immigration related and the secret service there should be NO federal officers.

  21. I could say there is silent cheering at the killing of that federal law enforcement officer during the riots in Oakland last week as a small blow for liberty, but I’m too sensitive so I won’t.

  22. For those who don’t have any first hand experience with federal enforcement agencies, they are even less transparent and less accountable than most state police, local police and county sheriff departments. In the Southwest, agencies like the FBI, ATF, and DEA are only the tip of the iceberg with the 800 lb gorilla in the room being CBP and USBP. In my county alone, the largest enforcement agency by far is the USBP with over 3,000 agents routinely stopping, seizing, detaining, interrogating and seizing people on a regular basis absent reasonable suspicion.

    While I’ve rarely had trouble using the public records laws to get information from the local sheriff or police dept., CBP rarely bothers to respond to my FOIA requests, let alone provide any requested documentation. The only way to get information out of them is to sue and even then it’s an expensive uphill battle.

    Further, the equivalent 42 USC 1983 civil rights remedy against federal agents is known as a BIvens action based upon the 1971 SCOTUS case Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Unfortunately, since 1971 the Supreme Court has been working just as diligently to undermine the ability of civil rights plaintiff’s to hold federal agents accountable based on Bivens actions as they have state actors under 42 USC 1983 (through the creation and strengthening of the qualified immunity doctrine):

    Civil Rights Litigation: The Supreme Court Further Restricts Bivens Actions:


    One of the worst scenarios for any local community is to have a unaccountable dominating federal police force operating in your area that is controlled by unelected federal officials who are in turn controlled by more unelected officials and politicians in Washington, D.C.

    1. One of the worst scenarios for any local community is to have a unaccountable dominating federal police force operating in your area that is controlled by unelected federal officials who are in turn controlled by more unelected officials and politicians in Washington, D.C.

      I was once told that this was perfectly accountable democracy when criticizing the lack of transparency and heavy-handed tactics of the EPA. “Talk to your representative” I was dismissively told. Your representative will hear your complaint, put pressure on the next administration during the agency-pick time, and from there your wishes will flow back down through the agency. Democracy 101.

      1. Basically, it was the civics class version of “Build your own youtube”

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  24. Start with real reform and end every type of welfare. Let everyone’s life matter by getting a job and contributing.

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  26. Should a product or service be provided on a compulsory basis?
    If government services were valuable and the market wanted them, would they be provided on a compulsory basis?
    If I did business in the same manner as government does, and forced strangers to give me money, would you consider me a criminal?

  27. The US is a very violent society. The media is loaded with violence, especially gun violence. Music videos loaded with young men holding guns. Many, many deranged people have guns. Huge numbers of Americans use narcotics. Without a forceful police presence I feel there will be a slaughterhouse. Of course I also believe this police presence goes way too far sometimes..such as DUI checkpoints, the Chauvin murder, etc. Police training must change, the war on drugs must be eliminated, guns must not be allowed in any film or tv advertising.

  28. Constitutionaly there should not even BE any federal cops. Yet we’ve got dozens of FedGov agencies with their own heavily armed police force. WHY does IRS have armed police? Or BATF? DEA should not even ixist at any level, then there are BLM goon squads, USFS armed and writing traffic tickets they haev NO authority to write, and ON AND ON it goes.

    If the public finally woke up to acknowledge the police state, do they know how to fix it? I doubt it. Why? “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil, for every one hacking at the root.” Henry David Thoreau
    Only striking the root cause, authoritarianism, i.e., putting violence before reason by initiating it, threatening it against all, most of whom are innocent, but all deserve to be considered innocent until proven guilty by due process, not “trial by cop”, will solve the problem of the coercive govt.
    When authority, i.e., the public sector, is judged like the private sector, not by a double standard that deifies it, then reason, rights, and choice will reign, instead of demigods.

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