11 May City Council Supports Task Force Recommendations to Reallocate Police Funds
(Screenshot captured by Mathew Miranda / Richmond Pulse)
By Mathew Miranda
The Richmond City Council voted 5-0 in a special meeting Monday to direct city staff to include recommendations from the Reimagining Public Safety Community Task Force as the next city budget is drafted. Mayor Tom Butt and Council member Nat Bates were absent.
The one-item meeting garnered 74 public speakers, many of whom supported the task force’s recommendations to shift $10.3 million from the Richmond Police Department to several community services and resources. In a previous interview, Chief of Police Bisa French estimated that the department could lose up to 35 officers with the reallocation.
All five council members present said they support the recommendations.
“I understand that individuals may feel that all hell is going to break loose, and things are going to change dramatically, but I have faith in Richmond,” said Vice Mayor Demnlus Johnson.
“I see now is a time to be visionary and now is a time to reimagine public safety, and that’s what we are doing,” said Council member Eduardo Martinez. “We want people to be enabled to their best.”
Although not present at the meeting, Butt has repeatedly stated his displeasure toward the police department reallocation.
The recommendations cannot be officially included in the 2021-22 fiscal year budget until its adoption at the end of June. Per the city charter, City Manager Laura Snideman will also need to return to the council with her professional recommendation of the proposed reallocation.
The City Council created the task force in June 2020 with the intention “to transition from Richmond’s current community policing model,” according to the staff report. Twenty-one members were appointed to the task force and met 16 times from October to May in preparation for the recommendations.
The task force organized itself into four subcommittees: community-based solutions; health and safety; smart budgeting and resource allocation; and accountability as safety. Representatives from three of the four subcommittees presented recommendations on Monday night.
Health and safety subcommittee
- $3.4 million to SOS! Richmond for a three-tiered program approach of community engagement, hygiene and health services and transformational support
- $2.4 million for a community crisis response program to address mental health crises and substance use issues without police
- $2.5 million increase to the Office of Neighborhood Safety, which provides and coordinates targeted interventions and prevention services
Community- based solutions subcommittee
- $1.9 million increase to the RichmondWorks Summer Youth Program for about 700 more youth jobs
- Requiring written consent for all vehicle searches pursuing to traffic stops
- Banning pretextual stops
- Instituting a moratorium on traffic fees and fines until March 2022
- Considering developing an alternative method of traffic enforcement led by unarmed civilians
- De-prioritizing traffic stops for minor safety violations, including not wearing a seat belt, expired registration or failure to signal
- Focusing police actions on investigative stops and driving violations related to traffic safety including speeding, running a red light or impaired driving
The budget and resource subcommittee gave an overview of the Richmond Police Department budget.
Currently, 39.8% of Richmond’s general fund, or roughly $67 million, is spent on the police department. While presenting, task force member Marisol Cantu provided statistics showing that Richmond spends more per capita on police than New York, San Jose, Detroit, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Per capita, Richmond also ranked fourth compared with the 25 largest U.S. cities.
“This indicates striking over-commitment to community control rather than community investment and violence prevention,” Cantu said.
The $10.3 million reallocation would bring the police department’s percentage of the general fund budget to 33.6% or about $57 million. The task force proposed the department achieve this new budget by reducing sworn officers, overtime and “other pay”, as well as auxiliary services.