The Winston-Salem City Council voted 7-1 on Monday to give police officers and firefighters a 1% salary supplement, during a meeting in which many speakers in the public-comment period denounced police spending.
The action that gave the public safety employees the supplement also raised the minimum wage for city employees from $13 per hour to $14.31 per hour. Both of the increases take effect Jan. 1.
Council Member Dan Besse proposed the public safety supplement (and higher minimum wage) after an effort by Council Member Annette Scippio to introduce a resolution in support of city police failed on the objection of Council Member James Taylor.
The meeting's cross-currents over policing seemed to reflect the debate over policing that has rocked the country since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis while in police custody on May 25.
Scippio went first on Monday, bringing forward a resolution in support of police that amplified concerns she voiced last week in a meeting of the city's Public Safety committee: That in a period of heightened gun violence locally, the city needed to be more forthright in support of police.
Because Scippio's resolution was a late addition to the agenda, she had to get unanimous support on the council to bring it to a vote. But Taylor, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, objected that he thought the resolution ought to go through his committee first.
Besse proposed the pay hike for police and fire employees during a discussion of how to divvy up some $2.7 million in new federal coronavirus relief that the city is getting.
The city plans to spend all the money on public-safety salaries, but that frees up an equal amount of money for other things, potentially. The city will be spending $1 million from the police budget — not needed because of the new coronavirus money — for social programs designed to tackle root causes of crime.
That carries forward an idea Taylor put forward at an earlier Public Safety meeting. Bessie proposed spending another $365,000 from the freed-up money to give police officers the 1% supplement mid-year. That would be a continuation of what's been an ongoing effort to boost police salaries in an effort to recruit and retain officers.
As well, Besse proposed about $167,000 for raising the city's minimum wage for city employees.
Police "have been under pressure because of the increase of gun violence and calls for racial justice," Besse said, adding that "we need to maintain our ability to recruit, train and retain" police and fire employees.
Council Member Robert Clark cast the only vote against Besse's proposal, saying that the city is far too early in a challenging budget year to spend that kind of money on pay hikes.
"We are in the worst recession in 90 years, and we are six weeks into it in this budget," Clark said.
Besse's proposal did earmark almost $1.2 million from the freed-up money to go into the city's rainy-day fund, although Assistant City Manager Ben Rowe noted during the discussion that the city had used $9.5 million from its reserves to balance the current year's budget.
During public comments, speakers called the city to reduce police spending in various ways, objecting to items that included $2 million for police car replacements, participation in an anti-drug task force and spending that could increase the amount of video surveillance as an anti-crime measure.
Many of the speakers voiced support for the Triad Abolition Project, a group that has occupied Bailey Park and mounted protests that have included calls for defunding police.
More cameras, Nia Sadler argued, "will not reduce crime, but it will increase the number of arrests."
"It will make our community members further fear and mistrust the Winston-Salem Police Department," she said, adding that money for policing should instead be spent on "the community."
William Dinkins talked about reparations for slavery.
"I would like to hear more talk about what we can do with a group of people who are owed this debt instead of locking them up and killing them," he said.