Winston-Salem will consider moving $1 million from the city police budget to pay for more anti-poverty efforts, as governments here and elsewhere are starting to face demands for “defunding” police departments in favor of social spending.
City leaders insist they are adamantly against defunding city police, and heard an in-depth explanation from top police officials on Monday of how the city’s police force is much better trained than most to do good police work.
The $1 million, taken from a total anticipated police budget of almost $79 million for the 2020-21 fiscal year, would come from the salaries of 15 police officer positions that city officials do not expect to be filled in the coming year.
The city police force has 40 vacant officer positions, and 30 officers in the training pipeline, but with the usual rates of attrition, city leaders said, 15 vacant slots can be spared from the police budget.
On Monday, the city’s public safety committee unanimously endorsed the transfer. As proposed, $160,000 would go to double a summer youth employment program; $330,000 would go to raise the city’s minimum wage to $14; $320,000 would go to help people facing eviction from their homes, and $190,000 would go to boost the number of people the city helps with a program to help ex-offenders.
Council Member James Taylor, who chairs the public safety committee, originated the idea of the funding shift and said the city was “in no way having anything considered about dismantling the police department.”
But Taylor said the shift would give the city more money “to address the root cause of crime.”
Joining Taylor in support of the move were committee members Jeff MacIntosh and John Larson. Other members of the council, not on the committee, attended and took part in the discussions.
With protests here and elsewhere against the death of George Floyd while in the custody of police in Minneapolis, the hitherto-almost-unthinkable call to abolish police forces, or at least cut police spending by greater or lesser amounts, has come to the fore in some quarters.
Some activists claim police are irredeemably biased against blacks and other minorities. A majority of the Minneapolis City Council supports disbanding the police force there.
The city meeting wasn’t the only one Monday where law enforcement spending turned into a focus of attention.
During Monday’s public hearing on the Forsyth County budget, multiple speakers called for reduction in law enforcement spending. The county budget pays for sheriff’s deputies, not police officers.
“I implore you to adjust the planned budget to de-allocate a large portion of the funds that have been moved to the sheriff, and try to redirect those funds to public services,” said one speaker, Evelyn Allen of Winston-Salem. “To my knowledge, we have not housed every homeless person on the street ... we could use the money we have allocated for police to house the homeless, to the River Run festival and other general services.”
Another speaker, who only gave the name Melissa, advocated decreased funding for law enforcement, saying it “undermines the safety of our community.” Another speaker, Anthony David Peek, said the police force “largely serves to protect white members of the community” and that more social services spending would reduce crime.
Speaker Julie Brady objected to jail spending, and called for the money to be used to “address inequality.”
The county board of commissioners didn’t respond to any speakers on Monday, saying their only job at that meeting was to listen. Commissioners plan to dive into their budget details during a meeting that starts at 9 a.m. today, June 9.
During the city’s public safety meeting, Council Member Dan Besse voiced the worry that moving $1 million from vacant police jobs might not be interpreted the way city officials intend.
“I don’t think there’s anyone on this council that wants to defund the police,” Besse said, adding that money from unfilled slots “is a different thing from sloganeering about defunding police.” Still, he said, the city “needs to make sure it is not misunderstood as that.
Several public speakers during the public safety meeting expressed opposition to moving any police money.
Jo Frazier, who said she didn’t want to give her address, said police are “trashed” by the public and the media, and that officers have to go to their jobs each day “and hear how bad we are doing.”
“I would be really concerned that we are considering allocating $1 million when other departments want to recruit our officers.
Kris McCann, the Republican Party candidate for mayor of Winston-Salem in the November election, attacked Taylor for an incident in 2012 in Walnut Cove. Taylor was cited for not having his concealed weapon permit with him and for speeding, and eventually pleaded guilty to only the speeding charge.
“And yet you are asking to take away positions on our police force, and that is not the way to do it,” McCann said.
On the other hand, several speakers did voice support for the programs that the city would divide the $1 million among.
“If kids are doing stuff in the summer, they won’t be out on the street,” said Austin Hicks. “They will be making money for their families. For college. There needs to be more resources for people who are not as privileged as I am.”
Donovan Baity called defunding “a good thing."
“It is hard to trust what is going on, as an average black person,” he said. “Crimes are in relation to poverty and desperation. I don’t know how 15 vacant police slots is worth $1 million, but that is a lot of money.”
Council Member Annette Scippio said her concern was to spend more money helping elementary and middle-school students: “It is better to build strong children so we don’t have to repair broken adults,” she said.
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