Protestors raise their fists and one holds a sign reading "Black Lives Matter"
Protesters hold up fists at a gathering in support of the Black Lives Matter movement on Woodhouse Moor in Leeds in northern England on June 21, 2020, in the aftermath of the death of unarmed black man George Floyd in police custody in the US. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

Understand how your local police department is funded

1. Review the National Police Funding Database

The National Police Funding Database includes information, collected from federal government sources, for more than 250 cities and counties that have received federal funds for law enforcement since 2012. It displays grant funds that the federal government gave to a city or county or its police department. In many cases, it also shows the intended use of the grant, e.g., community policing programs. Learn more about the federal grant funding presented on this site.

Grants aren’t the only way local law enforcement agencies receive federal support. The Department of Defense has transferred billions of dollars worth of excess military equipment to local police departments, and information about this equipment is also available in the National Police Funding Database. Learn more about military equipment transfers.

For further context, we have also included data about the racial and ethnic composition of the population in each city or county included in the database, links to publicly available police misconduct complaints filed by individuals where available, consent decrees between the federal government and local police departments, and settlement information.

2. Dive deeper into specific grants

After identifying a particular grant that you are interested in, you may want to learn more about how the grant funds are being used. You can request this information by submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to DOJ. Here is an example of such a request. You can also request a copy of a particular grant through your state’s open records laws. More information about these laws is available from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

3. Call for change

Once you are knowledgeable about how grant funds should be used, you can determine if your local government and police department are investing in the right things in your community to maintain public safety. You could use this information in several ways. You may want to ask questions of city officials, possibly by raising them at a public comment hearing about your district’s policing budget. For example, if your city received a grant to purchase body-worn cameras or hire new officers, you may want to know how this funding is being spent and where these new officers are deployed.

File a complaint if you or others in your community have been discriminated against

If you believe that your local police department discriminated against you or a group of individuals based on race, national origin, religion, sex, or disability in violation of Title VI, Section 504, or the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 as described above, you can file an administrative complaint with DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs, Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

While it is difficult to prove discrimination, filing a complaint with OCR may be an effective police accountability strategy for two reasons. First, OCR has found evidence of discrimination by a law enforcement agency based on disability and required the agency to change its practices. It has also concluded that a sheriff’s office’s failure to maintain a process for individuals to file complaints of officer misconduct could have discriminatory effects on racial and ethnic minorities and other protected classes in violation of Title VI and other civil rights laws.

To learn more about the OCR administrative complaint process, please read this LDF and OCR webinar presentation and consider this sample complaint. This webinar and sample complaint are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute the provision of legal advice or establish an attorney-client relationship with LDF or the Thurgood Marshall Institute.