This is part two of a CapRadio series examining police reform. See part one here.
At Sacramento’s City Council meeting earlier this week, two dozen people waited for hours on hold to ask Mayor Darrell Steinberg and other councilmembers to defund or reform Sacramento’s police force. It was the first city council meeting since the police killing of George Floyd sparked demonstrations in Sacramento and around the world.
“Not enough money for transit, not enough money for health care or for housing, but somehow we have unlimited money for criminalization and a brutal police force; folks are really calling that into question now and reckoning with that across the state,” said Jennifer Epps-Addison of Popular Democracy, a non-profit that’s been looking at ways local government can divest in police forces.
However, Mayor Darrell Steinberg made it clear in an interview with CapRadio’s Insight that he does not see defunding the police as an option.
“I don’t want to even think in those terms of disbanding the police department. But maybe there is a bold and more healing conversation to be had that is actually part of the message of the people calling for dismantling and defunding,” he said.
In Los Angeles, mayor Eric Garcetti has cut the police budget by $150 million, though advocates have pointed out it may not really be defunding, as it’s a relatively small chunk out of the department’s $1.2 billion city budget.
Sacramento’s budget is significantly smaller than Los Angeles’. At about $150 million in total, it’s mostly in line with police budgets for other similarly-sized cities, and it has held relatively steady over the past decade. However, some advocates have pointed to the fact that the 2020-2021 budget, which begins in July, includes a $10 million bump. The city manager’s office says the $10 million reflects purchases already agreed upon, such as union-negotiated pay raises and equipment purchases.
“In light of the COVID pandemic, the direction for this year’s budget was a continuation budget. So all we did was increase the cost of our employees and update our fleet operations and everything else was carried over,” said Dawn Holm, director of finance for the City Manager’s Office. She said a small increase that did not go towards pre-existing items went towards funding a mental health task force within the department.
But, incoming city councilmember Katie Valenzuela argued that money could be better used elsewhere.
“You know, when you saw the police response in Sacramento to these protests, clearly there’s a lot of money being spent on militarizing our police against its citizens, and that really was the best illustration I could find that we need to be rethinking how we spend this money,” Valenzuela said.
And some groups disagree that “defunding” means a full shifting of the police budget elsewhere. Nia MooreWeathers is with the non-profit Youth Forward. She said the term “defund” doesn’t have to mean an immediate dismantling of the police system.
“First we could start with a 30% budget cut across the board,” she said. She’d like to see that 30% shifted to things like youth services, education and mental health. She says the city could eventually transition to even more money for community-based services and a smaller overall police force.
“Money could go to establish some sort of emergency response triage system instead and find a way to customize it to each community that we have here in Sacramento. A community emergency response is not going to look the same in South Sacramento as it would in the Fab 40s,” MooreWeathers said.
Sacramento’s police union President Tim Davis agreed with MooreWeathers that police are being asked to do more than ever before. But, he said the answer is more funding, not less.
“If we want good officers, we want educated officers, we want well trained officers and we want to continue to provide training, we need to have resources, and if we gut the resources from our police department we won’t be able to do those things any longer,” he said.
But Youth Forward’s Nia MooreWeathers added that the history of policing in America is intertwined with slavery. Historians have noted that many of the country’s earliest police forces were extensions of slave patrols. She said that because of this history, she believed it was time for city governments to rethink the system.
“Because of the way that police forces were established here in America, it is impossible for police forces to function as a safety servant,” she said.
Groups like the Liberation Collective for Black Sacramento and Black Lives Matter Sacramento are putting a list of immediate demands before City Council next week. The Black Liberation Collective will also be holding more events in predominantly white spaces to continue to push for action. The hope is that some changes can be made before the start of the new budget year, which begins on July 1.
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