As the Baltimore City Council met to debate the police budget, protesters gathered outside City Hall hoping to make their views clear. In tall, pink letters, they painted DEFUND THE POLICE on a downtown street. Protesters across the country have made the same call, spurred by the Memorial Day death of George Floyd as a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.So it's less than a 5% cut.
That’s not what the Council voted to do Monday night in a contentious budget hearing. Rather, it voted to eliminate roughly $22 million in police spending for the upcoming fiscal year — a move that City Council President Brandon Scott says is a signal of what’s to come. “I am proud to lead a City Council that took the first step to responsibly reduce Baltimore’s budget dependence on policing,” said Scott, who is the Democratic nominee for mayor. “This is just the beginning, and I intend to continue leading this process to redirect our public dollars and reimagine public safety in Baltimore.”
Baltimore routinely spends more than half a billion dollars on its police department, far more than on other agencies. Some argue it’s time to instead redirect a portion of that money toward eliminating the root causes of violence.
The Council intended for the cuts to boost spending elsewhere, including opening recreation centers on Sundays, increasing trauma services and offering black-owned businesses forgivable loans.I'm not sure I see the need for mounted officers, but they sure look cool.
Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who has the sole power to reallocate funds, does not intend to do so. Young’s administration defended its budget proposal, saying the police department needs resources to reform in a city plagued by unrelenting homicides. The mayor is expected to act on the budget in the coming days, allowing it to take effect July 1.
Even before the protests, the budget was under increased scrutiny because of economic turmoil touched off by the coronavirus pandemic. It had to be rewritten after the city projected $103 million less in revenue for the 2021 fiscal year.
Here is what some of the cuts to the police department may look like in execution.
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The cuts would force the police department to spend about $7 million less in overtime costs. The agency is on track to spend about $40 million on overtime in the current fiscal year, including for officers who responded to the ongoing demonstrations.
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Getting rid of the mounted unit frees up about $554,000. The savings weren’t larger because the police department had already shifted all the officers assigned to the horse-riding unit to patrol. Nearly two years ago, the city broke ground on a $2.5 million construction project to stable the horses in Southwest Baltimore. Democratic City Councilman John Bullock lamented that it was nearly complete, but now thrust into flux.
I believe almost any governmental organization could benefit from a 20% cut in funding or staff, if it were directed at the right portions of the organization. Unfortunately, the parts or the bureaucracy that could be best spared tend to be the most entrenched and resistant to reform.
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