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Previous Forum research noted that as municipal budgets have tightened for various reasons, local officials have attempted to shield police departments from cuts. As a result, those departments now take up a larger share of municipal budgets than a generation ago.

The Forum does not take a position on the proposed state policies or on the level of local police spending. Yet understanding what is happening with each of them is valuable for all in the continuing debate about how best to police our communities and fund the departments that do so.

Even in good economic times, hundreds of town, village, and city governments throughout Wisconsin decreased their police and fire department spending in the year preceding the George Floyd incident and police reform protests. That suggests these actions may be less about a deliberate attempt to “defund police” and more about confronting challenging fiscal realities.

This information is provided to Wisconsin Newspaper Association members as a service of the Wisconsin Policy Forum, the state’s leading resource for nonpartisan state and local government research and civic education. Learn more at