As San Diego continues to oppose calls for massive police funding cuts, some city guides have begun pushing for a full analysis to see what functions of the police department could be revised or taken over by other agencies.
City councilors who advocate such an approach say it will likely result in much slower and more incremental change than what groups chanted slogans like “Defund the Police” after George Floyd passed away last year.
These council members claim that thoughtful analysis and targeted changes make more sense for San Diego than potentially tricky reforms.
“It can’t be healthy bites, it can’t be reducing and increasing it,” Councilor Joe LaCava said during a public hearing on Friday about police spending. “It has to be a more thoughtful approach.”
However, proponents of reform also say some modest changes could come this spring as part of the budget deliberations Mayor Todd Gloria recently proposed for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.
“I really hope we can do a little more next month, dig a little deeper and have some really tough conversations about the right size police,” said Councilman Sean Elo-Rivera.
Gloria proposed an increase in annual police funding by $ 24 million from $ 568 million to $ 592 million.
In budget notes last winter, a majority of council members urged the mayor to consider such changes, especially if policing could be shifted to social services or groups focusing on homelessness.
“This priority is largely not taken into account in the proposed budget,” says the independent budget analyst. “Funding was not specifically reallocated, nor were the services the department provided to service providers outside of law enforcement.”
LaCava, Elo-Rivera, and councilor Monica Montgomery Steppe say city guides should take advice from Jack Schaeffer, president of the city’s police union, and investigate the matter thoroughly.
“If you want to re-imagine the department, it should contain a real and comprehensive plan,” Schaeffer told the council on Friday. “Otherwise, reimagining is a buzzword you use to defuse the department for a political purpose.”
Schaeffer warned that deep police cuts in other cities over the past year have led to an increase in crime. He also said reforms could cost more instead of less, suggesting additional money will be needed for training and community police.
“A real redesign requires investment in the department rather than cuts,” he said.
However, Schaeffer said the union generally supports the idea that the police should no longer be the first responder in many situations involving the homeless.
Elo-Rivera said this could be an opportunity by identifying a new outreach program, led by nonprofit people helping the homeless, as a potential model for the shift of homeless responsibilities from police to social services.
However, Elo-Rivera acknowledged that significant changes require thorough analysis.
“This will take a very, very long time,” said Elo-Rivera, warning reform advocates not to expect too much in this fiscal cycle.
Montgomery Steppe, the leading voice on the Police Reform Council as chairman of the Public Safety Committee, agreed that after careful analysis, the city should now make some small changes and major changes.
“There is definitely an ongoing need for our (police) department, but there is also a need for other types of investments in our communities,” she said, suggesting that neighborhood libraries, parks and other facilities reduce crime can. “We have to have the right conversation.”
Montgomery Steppe said the city’s police budget, which has increased by $ 214 million since 2011, is unsustainable in the long term and will eventually need to be cut by moving some functions to another location.
“I think we can do better,” she said.
The council’s comments came after dozens of speakers complained about racial differences in policing and recent spikes in violent crime. Many also advocated reducing police funding, but some said funding should stay the same or increase.
“It is the city council’s duty to make public safety a priority,” said resident Tammy Martin. “Our police are already underfunded, but they are doing their duty to protect us.”
Beverly McAlla agreed.
“Defusing the police is not the answer,” she said. “Adequate funding for the police to enforce quality of life crimes and fund mental health services programs and individuals should be budgeted for.”
But a large majority of speakers were in favor of cuts.
“The increase in the budget for the police leads to a militarization of the armed forces, which perpetuates further violence,” said Veronica Philipsborn.
“Research shows that reducing police engagement with citizens actually makes our communities safer,” said Lt. Col. David Gapp, retired. “Spend this money on volunteer teams, especially emergency mental health teams that are needed to care for the mentally ill in San Diego.”