Professor Brett Stoudt Discusses the Growing Support for Accountability in and Defunding of Police Departments

Professor Brett Stoudt (Ph.D. '09, Psychology) (Credit: The Graduate Center/Alex Irklievski)

Professor Brett Stoudt (GC/John Jay; Psychology, Social Welfare/Psychology) is a steering committee member of Communities United for Police Reform (CPR), a coalition of more than 200 New York City organizations that together focus on goals such as reducing the NYPD budget. This summer brought a long-sought success, fueled by the Black Lives Matter movement: the passage of three civil rights bills that increase police transparency and accountability.

Stoudt is the associate director of The Graduate Center’s Public Science Project, which works with community organizations and members on research aimed at fighting injustice in their own neighborhoods. He is the head of the Psychology Program’s training area in Critical Social/Personality and Environmental Psychology and has also taught at John Jay for more than a decade, which he joined after earning his Ph.D. from The Graduate Center. We recently spoke to Stoudt about the widespread support for a movement — reining in police power and budgets — that until recently fell outside of mainstream liberal goals. 

The Graduate Center: What do you make of the ongoing movement, which calls not only for holding police accountable but also for defunding the police?

Stoudt: I think it’s absolutely stunning. We’ve gone from police reform to police abolition — or, if that’s too far for some, the idea of divesting from police and investing in other areas. 

For decades, the police have been the “solution” to significant disinvestment in social services. If we have homeless people on the subway, we say let’s have the police take care of them. We’re worried about our schools, let’s have police in schools. The police have gotten way too much credit for the reduction of crime in New York City. A small percentage of their day is actually spent attending to the type of violent crimes that we think of as police work.

Police are essentially violence workers. When they respond, they come with the threat of violence and possible death, summons and arrests, and the carceral system. They don’t have a lot of tools to help people in need, people who are having a mental health crisis, who are homeless.

What’s stunning to me is that a large coalition of people — particularly a diverse new younger generation — now have this critical consciousness that we use the police for too many things at the expense of others. And there’s a desire to redistribute this enormous budget. The consciousness has moved so much even in the last decade.  

The fact that we’ve gotten here — and that it’s been sustained across the country, across the world, and people are holding onto this idea that budgets are a value statement, and that inequality is so great that it’s necessary to reallocate that budget to social services — I never thought it would happen. 

GC: What are your thoughts on last month’s announcement that New York City is moving $1 billion from the police budget? The news didn’t seem to make anyone happy.

Stoudt: It seems like smoke and mirrors, magic math and moving people around, but not really reducing the budget in a significant way. Here we are, looking at a huge budget crisis at CUNY and in social services across the city. Essentially every city sector is expected to take a huge, sometimes catastrophic cut, except for the NYPD. 

We’re just asking to reduce the budget to what it was when de Blasio got into office. We’re in a pandemic that has shut our economy and is going to cause unemployment, evictions and possibly create a food crisis, and we need those funds. We’re not fully funding the public infrastructure that actually promotes community health and safety, but we’re boosting up the surveillance and punitive aspects of the city, during a pandemic crisis, and then saying, Let’s see what happens. We know what will happen.

GC: What are your main goals for the near future?

Stoudt: We need the police to have less power, less scope, to have a much smaller footprint, especially in communities of color. We need to reimagine how other public institutions are empowered or invent new ones. My goal for 2021 will be to support these efforts through a newly funded participatory action research project that will invite those living in heavily policed neighborhoods to discuss future possibilities for public safety with less reliance on police and to consider the most critical public investments they think necessary for their communities. 

Submitted on: JUL 23, 2020

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