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Councilmembers Get Report That Puts San Diego Police Budget Under A Microscope

San Diego police officers walk towards a group of protesters, June 1, 2020.

Photo by Mike Damron

Above: San Diego police officers walk towards a group of protesters, June 1, 2020.

San Diego City Councilmembers on Wednesday reviewed a report that puts the police department’s $568-million budget under the microscope, showing details about individual units, overtime and equipment spending that the public typically does not see.

The report from the city's Office of the Independent Budget Analyst (IBA) was commissioned this summer after mass protests against police brutality and a flood of calls for the council to cut police spending. It's unlikely any cuts will come before next June when the council approves the city’s 2021-22 fiscal year budget.

Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen.

The IBA found that while the police budget has grown to an all-time high this fiscal year, it is in line with previous years when looked at as a percentage of the city’s overall general fund budget. In 2020-21, spending on police is 35% of the total budget, and since 2008 it has accounted for between 32% and 35% of all general fund spending.

Many activists, motivated by the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other unarmed Black people nationwide, were furious when councilmembers voted in June to increase the police budget by $29 million, or 5.4% over the previous fiscal year. But that increase was mostly associated with wage and benefit increases promised to police officers long before the budget vote.

Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe, who has made police accountability and transparency a top priority, said the IBA's report would be useful in the coming years as the pandemic-induced recession is likely to necessitate budget cuts across city departments.

RELATED: San Diego Police Routinely Blow Past Overtime Budgets

"We will probably be in recovery for years from COVID-19," Montgomery Steppe said at the council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee meeting, where the report was first discussed. "But it is really, really good to have these types of breakdowns so that we can make the best decisions possible."

One area that drew particular scrutiny Wednesday was SDPD's various gang units, which together account for 68 full-time positions and $16.8 million in spending. Members of the public called into the meeting with accounts of officers in those gang units harassing, mistreating or disrespecting innocent people.

Montgomery Steppe said that was an area where she saw opportunities to divert funding away from traditional policing in favor of more community-based interventions to disrupt gang activities.

"While officers certainly have a job to do, I am concerned about the type of stories I hear with the gang suppression unit," Montgomery Steppe said.

A recent poll from Voice of San Diego found a plurality of county residents support taking funds away from law enforcement agencies and giving them to social services such as job training or treatment programs for mental illness or substance use disorder.

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Photo of Andrew Bowen

Andrew Bowen
Metro Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover local government — a broad beat that includes housing, homelessness and infrastructure. I'm especially interested in the intersections of land use, transportation and climate change.

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