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San Diego City Council Hears From Public Regarding Police Department Budget

The San Diego City Council is shown at a meeting on Nov. 19, 2019.

Credit: Zoë Meyers/inewsource

Above: The San Diego City Council is shown at a meeting on Nov. 19, 2019.

Following another weekend of largely peaceful protests against police brutality, the San Diego City Council heard public comments Monday — both written and telephoned in — from hundreds of residents urging the council to reject a proposed $27 million increase in the budget for the San Diego Police Department.

The majority of callers asked for the police to be defunded, with funds going toward marginalized and vulnerable communities instead. Speakers asked for the money to be used for homeless outreach, mental health services, racial equity commissions and rent-assistance programs, among myriad other ideas.

Councilwoman Monica Montgomery said she will propose an Office on Race and Equity to address some of the concerns the citizens voiced with policing.

"As elected officials, we must honestly and genuinely address the root causes of the local protests — the inequity in enforcement and the systemic racism that is prevalent in our region," she said. "From the beginning of my administration, I have championed a holistic approach to reform measures, including economic justice components. This new Office on Race and Equity is another step in the right direction, along with other reform measures."

RELATED: What Does 'Defund The Police' Mean?

For several hours, the number of callers waiting to speak to the council exceeded the phone line's capacity, with many having to wait before they could even call in to wait in a queue to speak. At 1 p.m., the city's phone system crashed and the council took a break to get it running again.

Matthew Bishop, a therapist and volunteer at the San Diego Rescue Mission, called in to describe the way he said he's seen law enforcement treat homeless people.

"It's embarrassing with a capital E," he said. "There's an old saying that if all you have are hammers, everything starts to look like a nail. If you give more resources to the hammers of our city — the police — more and more people are going to look like nails."

Mayor Kevin Faulconer's proposed budget would increase the police budget to $566 million for fiscal year 2021 constituting about a third of the city's general fund budget. The previous year's budget for the SDPD was $539 million and 2019's was $480 million.

Lauren Rose, a San Diego resident from District 4, said the thought of more public funding going toward the police department "makes me sick."

The in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the no-knock raid and shooting death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville have sparked an unprecedented public call for defunding of police nationwide. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced he would cut that city's police funding by $150 million and the majority of the Minneapolis City Council vowed to dismantle the city's police department.

Monique Rosas, a District 6 resident, echoed many speakers when she asked that the San Diego police budget be decreased by $100 million, including $42.2 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding which Faulconer had allocated for the department.

She and many other speakers mentioned the names of people killed by law enforcement in the San Diego region over the last several years, including James Lacy, who was shot by two sheriff's deputies in 2017. Multiple people also referenced an incident last week when a 59-year-old grandmother was hit with a "non-lethal" beanbag round reportedly fired by a La Mesa police officer during a protest in that city, leaving her hospitalized since May 30 and, according to her family, potentially facing the loss of an eye.

Aleah Jenkins, who died after falling unconscious while in SDPD custody in 2018, was also on the minds of several callers.

A more recent incident on Thursday, in which plainclothes detectives arrested a woman and took her away in an unmarked van after a protest march downtown, was also the subject of several callers' concerns with the department's practices.

An internal investigation has been ordered by San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit into the controversial arrest by San Diego police detectives. Police say undercover officers watched the woman swing a cardboard sign at a passing motorcycle officer, then arrested her and loaded her into the van for safety reasons because of the surrounding crowd. She was booked into jail on suspicion of assault on a peace officer.

Other public comment questioned the increase of police funding using COVID-19 relief funds during a time when people were suffering.

"Millions of people are losing their jobs and you're funding the police?" said Huy Tran, a local political activist who said he was appalled by the "immoral" budget proposal.

The city council was expected to discuss and vote on the budget proposal later Monday afternoon.

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