RICHMOND – The city is on the verge of cutting its police budget by $ 3 million and investing that money in creating a non-police community crisis response team, adding funds to services for homeless and youth programs and expand its violence prevention office.
In a controversial meeting, a majority of city council voted on Tuesday for staff to allocate $ 6.83 million next year for such programs and services, combining cuts to police and procurement budgets vehicles as well as this year’s remaining surplus funds.
It’s a move that developers see as an investment in the community and an effort to stabilize people with services to help them access housing, mental health supports, jobs, and other resources. This, advocates say, will increase public safety.
Council member Melvin Willis noted that residents compared recent spikes in crime to those around 2009 and the 1990s.
“What I see in common is the financial crisis – people are struggling to make ends meet,” Willis said. He believes these investments in social services will help.
Council members Claudia Jimenez, Eduardo Martinez and Gayle McLaughlin agreed, all signaling their support for one of six funding options presented to them by city staff to be included in the budget, which is to be finalized by now. the end of June.
City staff presented options to council after weeks of debate on how to incorporate recommendations from the Reimagining Public Safety Community, a group that has met over the past eight months to examine how the city expense for public safety and what can be changed.
Last month, that task force recommended that the city cut $ 10.3 million – about 15% – from the police budget and divert funds to non-police programming and response units. While a majority of city council expressed support for this, city staff insisted that it was not possible to reduce as much, and instead offered several options the council could take to reinvest. police dollars in other services.
The option the council decided on Tuesday will provide $ 1 million to create a community-based crisis response program that would send doctors and mental health specialists to behavioral health crises and substance use appeals instead of the police.
Similar programs have been carried out in cities like Eugene, Oregon, and the idea has recently gained momentum in the Bay Area, particularly in the wake of the high-profile police killings of people in crisis. mental health. Oakland City Council earlier this year approved a pilot program to start a crisis response unit that would be housed in the fire department and staffed with specialists, and city council members advocate strengthening this program in its next budget cycle. And Contra Costa County is working with local towns to strengthen its own behavioral health intervention service.
The council-selected fundraising plan also provides $ 1.98 million for the Richmond YouthWorks program, a municipal program aimed at providing teens and young adults with vocational training and academic support which, in 2020, numbered around 175 people. and a budget of $ 375,000. The plan will add $ 1.8 million to strengthen services for people experiencing homelessness.
It would also add $ 1.6 million to the budget of the Neighborhood Safety Office, which provides violence prevention and response efforts and currently has a budget of $ 1.9 million.
Critics of the plan say it makes no sense to shrink an already stretched police force by funding it even more. While the plan approved by city council on Tuesday will result in no layoffs of existing staff, it would freeze 12 unfilled positions that police chiefs hoped to fill this budget cycle.
“There are service level impacts that we are already feeling because we don’t have the positions right now,” Police Chief Bisa French told council members at the meeting on Tuesday, adding that she planned to lose even more officers because people are at various stages of applying for other jobs.
Since the police department devotes most of its resources to staffing patrol teams, which are assigned to fixed schedules, French said he has limited staff to investigate cold or cold cases. flights that did not have solid runways.
In a note to the board, staff also noted that police have less time to work on issues such as “human trafficking, prostitution, drug reduction, outdoor drug sales, issues. roaming complaints and other complaints that take a long time to resolve.
But proponents of investments in social services argue that some of these issues, particularly homelessness, should not be addressed by the police but by specialists or civilians who can help address the root causes by putting people in contact with housing, employment and other supports.
Mayor Tom Butt and council member Nat Bates disagreed, noting that many people in Richmond fear crime will increase without more support for the police.
“You are making a mistake in funding this police service,” Bates told fellow council members. “I have never received so many emails or communications from individual citizens, who are taxpayers and voters, who are totally opposed to funding the police.”
Butt and Bates voted for an option of using federal money to fund services instead of cutting the police budget at all.
Deputy Mayor Demnlus Johnson abstained from the vote, expressing support for an option recommended by city staff that would cut police funding by $ 2.3 million and give recommendations $ 5.58 million of the working group – a slightly more conservative change from the one finally adopted by the Council.