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San Diego City Council Passes Budget With No Cuts To Police Funding

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The council took more than 10 hours of public testimony, nearly all of it from people asking for cuts to the San Diego Police Department amid nationwide outrage over police violence in the wake of the George Floyd killing.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Dozens of protesters gathered outside San Diego mayor, Kevin Faulkner's house late last night after the city council had agreed on a budget that increases the police department's budget by $27 million. This at a time when there are nationwide demands to defund police departments in several cities, including Los Angeles have taken steps to do that. San Diego's budget meeting lasted over 10 hours. KPBS Metro reporter, Andrew Byrne was there until the end. So Andrew, thanks for joining us today.

Speaker 2: 00:28 Thank you. And I was actually watching from home. So I was there kind of virtually, but not in the room

Speaker 1: 00:34 they're virtually. So what was the main point of contention that kept it going so late?

Speaker 2: 00:38 Well, there was no question. It was just a flood of a public comment calling for cuts to the San Diego police department. The public testimony portion of the budget hearing lasted literally all day. It started just after 11 o'clock and wrapped up just before 10 o'clock. So it's a really interesting time right now for city council meetings, because public comment has become so much more accessible for people because of the coronavirus pandemic. All you have to do is call into a number, punching a conference code, and then you're entered into the queue. Whereas previously you would have to physically go to city hall, finds the council chambers, fill out a comment slip, and then wait in the building during the entire meeting. If you're just calling in, you can kind of stay at home and keep on doing your business while you're waiting for your turn.

Speaker 2: 01:22 At one point, the phone system actually collapsed because there were so many callers in the queue and the city clerk decided after that to basically just lock the conference, call clear the queue of, of commenters, and then reopen it periodically. The council deliberation, uh, you know, among council members, after that marathon, public comment only lasted about an hour and most of the council members didn't directly address the calls for cutting the police budget, which I think is one of the reasons why folks were so upset and ended up showing up to the mayor's house last night. But then after the budget vote, the council did have a few other items on its agenda that, that it had to take up. And there was another flood of public comment that essentially was shaming them for the budget vote that they actually took. Although some of those comments were deemed out of order and some of them got cut off because there were some expletives letter thrown around, but it was a council meeting, unlike I've ever seen before

Speaker 1: 02:13 we have some of those voices, let's hear them.

Speaker 3: 02:16 We cannot keep finding our police. To this extent I am calling to urge you that we didn't find the police for Jack mayor Faulkner's proposal to increase the police budget. I am urging the council not to give the STD any more money. They got too much money as it is.

Speaker 1: 02:30 So hundreds of people spoke and yet the council adopted the budget vote of eight to one to increase the police budget. Why did the mayor and council argue that was necessary?

Speaker 2: 02:41 Well, much of the increase to the police budget is actually due to the change in benefits that were negotiated by city employee unions, both the police officer's union, as well as the municipal employees association, which represents white collar city workers. Um, and the, there were some shifts in the budget internally within the police department. There's actually an overall net reduction in the actual, uh, number of, of budgeted positions. Um, but because the city council made that commitment to, you know, give the officers and everyone in the department, a better benefits package that, you know, that that kind of led to this increase. Um, why couldn't the city just cut the overall number of sworn officers in the budget at this point, uh, you know, or at that point last night, those really big changes to the budget are hard to make on the fly. It's hard to know exactly how you know, that those cuts would impact public safety.

Speaker 2: 03:33 Let's say, and how, uh, you know, these ideas that were thrown around by many of the commenters take money away from the police and invested in social services and mental health and, um, schools. I mean, some of those ideas, aren't all that easy to implement and certainly not easy to implement from the day. S so, uh, in some cases also cutting police positions might result in more overtime. It's a really complicated thing, the city budget. And, and so I think that at that point, uh, there wasn't just a whole lot of time to, to make such a big change. And that's why you saw some of the reluctance from the council members to actually do that.

Speaker 1: 04:08 No council, woman, Monica Montgomery is taking a stand in recent days for police department reforms, but she supported this budget. And she explained in her, yes, vote, uh, on Twitter. She said, although the budget did not defund the San Diego police department, it does provide social and economic justice relief for our communities of concern. She wrote, I am committed to developing a plan that can reasonably and responsibly address diverting funds from the San Diego police department gives the community my word on that. And in the meantime, she's won agreement for several million dollars for a new office of race and equity. Andrew, what will that do?

Speaker 2: 04:45 Well, uh, one of its mandates as they've spoke, or as you know, they've talked about it in concept is to increase the, um, or promote, uh, minority owned businesses with city contracting. So currently, um, the city contracts with minority owned businesses at a lower rate than, than, you know, the population might call for the pop, the share of population that is. And so, um, that's one of its mandates. I think at one, they want it to take a broader look at how the city budget can actually be more equitable. If there are certain communities that need more resources, you know, give those resources to those communities and communities that might be better off might have to make some sacrifices. Those things are all political decisions though, and creating a new office of race and equity, which would be presumably under the mayor's office or under the mayor's control. Um, I, I'm not sure quite how that will, will necessarily solve the problem. I think that we'll just have to see a lot more details on how that department is structured, um, who is leading it, how much money it has, those types of things.

Speaker 1: 05:44 Chris ward was the lone vote against the budget. What did he have to say?

Speaker 2: 05:48 Of course, Ford said he was disappointed that his renter relief fund for low income tenants that are struggling to pay the rent because of the COVID-19. And the economic impacts really only got a fraction of the funding that he had requested. He asked for a close to $62 million and it ended up getting, I think about 14 million. Um, so he was disappointed with that. He said he, he was also very concerned about the use of tear gas and rubber bullets on protestors in his district that all took place downtown, which is his district. And he said, you know, he, he wants to have a deeper discussion about shifting resources away from the police and toward other types of, of solutions to public safety. Here's a bit of what he said last night.

Speaker 3: 06:31 I would like to have seen a reallocation of resources from police towards program policies and initiatives that support this work, because we need to be investing more in our people, proactive measures and less in reactive measures.

Speaker 2: 06:44 Well, there was a lot more in the budget, of course, then the police budget and the city has restored some of the cuts that the mayor initially announced to tell us what services will not be reduced after all. Well, the big one I think has probably the library hours. So the mayor had proposed keeping libraries closed on Sundays and Mondays, the city's independent budget analyst had come up with a solution to maintain them at their current levels, open seven days a week. Uh, you know, basically just finding money in different parts of this, of the budget. There were a number of other things we probably don't have time to go into all of them, but, you know, it's kind of interesting that that was the big discussion when the COVID-19 pandemic started and that the, it started hitting the city budget. What's going to happen to library hours. What's gonna happen to arts and culture funding, and it was all completely overtaken by this discussion we're having about how we police our communities. We've been speaking with Andrew Byrne, KPBS, Metro reporter. Thanks so much, Andrew. My pleasure, Alison.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.