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San Diego Council Members: Shifting Police Funds Will Take Time, Planning

 May 11, 2021 at 10:16 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 It's going to take time. That's the word from San Diego city leaders, as they consider the task of shifting funding away from the police department to social services and other public safety programs, some city council members are calling for a comprehensive analysis of how the police budget could be changed and funding priorities shifted. There's not enough time for that to take place before next year. City budget is due. Although council members say they could take some initial steps. Now joining me is San Diego union Tribune reporter David Garrick. David, welcome. Thanks for having me who is calling for this comprehensive analysis, Speaker 2: 00:42 Uh, four council members, at least, uh, you know, some council members didn't really comment, but they seem to sort of tacitly agree. Uh, but Monica, Montgomery step who's head of the city councils, public safety committee, Sean ELO Rivera, uh, and Jola cava were sort of the loudest voices at a, at a budget hearing recently. Speaker 1: 00:59 And what would an analysis like that include? Speaker 2: 01:03 Well, um, it's, it's interesting sometimes how things work out the head of the police labor union Jack Schafer is sort of given the most detailed description we've ever heard, but we still haven't heard exactly what it would be, but it would be an analysis of what functions the police do right now would be better handled by social service agencies, homeless providers, maybe people who specialize in mental illness, because I think sort of the general argument of defund the police, which is a very complicated term, that can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But the general idea is that there's certain things that the police are not as good at as other people would be, especially social service providers and that we should ship some of the police's duties to those groups. Speaker 1: 01:46 And is that what the head of the police union is saying? Jack Shaffer, that perhaps they should consider that? Speaker 2: 01:52 Um, you know, I think Jack's point was you shouldn't do anything knee-jerk, you shouldn't do anything without thinking it through his argument was you need to make a thorough study before you do something, maybe to gain political points or to cave into political pressure. You need to treat this like an academic exercise, like something that you've really have analyzed in every possible way. And he had another caveat that even though you think you may end up spending less, some of the things that are maybe wrong with policing may cost you more. You may have to spend more money for training. You may have to spend more money on something called neighborhood policing, where you put police into some of the low income areas and have them sort of build relationships with community leaders. That's a way to reduce crime, but it doesn't cost less. It actually costs more. Speaker 1: 02:37 Now besides these three or four council members does shifting funds away from the police have, uh, like overall support from the city council. Speaker 2: 02:46 You know, it's interesting to ask that they've had five new members starting in December. Um, last spring when this sort of became a national issue, the council was unified and not wanting to do anything aggressive, like just eliminate police department as some cities considered. Uh, and it says where it takes small incremental steps, sort of like the ones they're talking about now with these five new members who all came in in December, you know, the debate really hasn't come up until this past few days. Um, and it appears that you have folks who want to take a, an aggressive look at potentially doing that. And the other folks didn't say they were against it, but they haven't really taken a vocal position. So I guess the answer is I'm not certain, Speaker 1: 03:26 You know, as you mentioned, activists started advocating for defunding some police budgets about a year ago. What has San Diego done in that time? Anything Speaker 2: 03:36 They've made some changes in police procedures with the carotid restraint, and they've created an office of race and equity to study issues that, uh, sort of involve racial disparities, which would include police. So those are the sort of the, the main issues. Um, they've increased funding for gang prevention, but there are sort of stuff that's on the edges as opposed to in the center, you would argue. And that's the one thing that the independent budget analyst for the city noted that this past week that a majority of the council members in their budget requests asked the mayor to explore shifting some police funding to other areas. And the mayor really it's a mayor. Todd, Gloria really didn't do that. Uh, maybe he's planning to do it soon, but in the initial budget he laid out about two weeks ago. There really isn't any suggestion of shifting money that goes to the police department now to be spent elsewhere. Speaker 1: 04:25 You may or Gloria has been supported by police unions in the past, in his political career. Is that a factor in how swiftly any reforms will move? Speaker 2: 04:35 I think a critic could say that, that it would be, I don't know. I guess we'll have to see how it plays out. Certainly labor unions have a lot of power, but this is also an issue that has so much sunshine on it. That, I mean, it's, it's one where you can't have a union, you know, give you a bunch of money in a dark closet and then no one notices what you do, whatever Todd Gloria does on this issue, everyone will see what happened. And you think he probably has to do what the community support. Speaker 1: 05:00 As you say, there's still a push by advocates like council member, Monica, Montgomery step to make some small changes in the budget this year, along the lines of perhaps shifting some funding. What changes is she talking about? Speaker 2: 05:15 No, there haven't been specifics. And I would say Shawnee lo Rivera. Her colleague has maybe even a more the leader of that charge. They, I think they all agree. The big changes can't come now because we haven't studied them thoroughly enough, but let's try to do a few little things. And one, uh, example that Shawnee lo Rivera came up with was there's a new effort of outreach with homelessness by a non-profit downtown, uh, that he thinks is maybe a model for how to take police out of the process, or at least less than their role in the process. And have a nonprofit group take sort of a more central role. Again, you just thought that was one example of something that could become a model. So I'm guessing that we'll see as the budget is debated over the next four weeks, maybe it's some proposals like that. So it will be a small chunk of, of police work, not like the overarching one you might see in a year or two after they thoroughly study it. Speaker 1: 06:03 What is the process involved in doing a comprehensive analysis? Is, would the council have to approve a committee? How would that proceed? Speaker 2: 06:12 Yeah, you're you're ahead of the curve there. I, I don't know. And I haven't heard any specific discussions. If I were to compare it to the way the city typically handles things, they would probably hire an outside consultant to study what other cities have done, uh, look at for best practices across the nation and maybe the world, and then analyze the police, uh, budget, which is almost $600 million a year. And see maybe what parts of it. They even have any sort of leeway with because most of it's labor costs and, you know, unless you want to go and fire a slew of police officers, uh, you know, it's hard to shift labor costs aggressively very quickly. Speaker 1: 06:46 So what should we be looking for? What are advocates of police, uh, budget reform going to be looking for as the budget process comes to an end here in June? Speaker 2: 06:55 I think they're gonna look for some small changes. That would be more along the lines of defunding the police. And I think the big moment will be when the city announces, okay, we are going to study it. Here's how we're going to study it. Here's the goals of this study. Um, and it just, so that may be that people can have confidence that the council is putting their money where their mouth is, that they truly legitimately are going to study this and consider changes as opposed to maybe saying the right things, to calm down the, the protesters and the folks who are frustrated and sort of waiting for it to die down. I believe the council genuinely wants to make change, but a critic could say, maybe they're just saying the right things, waiting for this to go away and replaced by some other issue. Speaker 1: 07:33 I've been speaking with San Diego union Tribune, reporter David Garrett, David. Thank you. Thanks for your time.

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While activists are calling for immediate reform, some San Diego City Council members say a thorough analysis of how, where and when to shift portions of the police department budget is needed first.
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