Sooner or later, political campaigns evolve into defining issues, and the Richmond Mayor campaign now has its defining issue – downsizing the Richmond Police Department.
In 2017, Melvin Willis was quoted in the media as advocating cutting the Richmond Police Department budget:
Willis said he would like to cut the police department’s budget and reallocate some of its remaining funding to city youth programs. “I would like to redefine public safety,” Willis said. “We need more investment in youth, our libraries and rec center are rundown. The RYSE youth center and Urban Tilth are viable programs that help prevent crime and violence.” (http://www.oaklandmagazine.com/January-February-2017/Taking-Responsibility/)
On October 18, Melvin got more explicit, vowing to cut the Richmond Police Department by 20%. You can see his commitment to this on a video from the October 18 “Our Power” forum at . (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sc28c9MLKMc).
Given subsequent opportunities to walk it back, Willis instead has doubled down. He admits that he has no plan of exactly how he would do it, but, says Willis, he will knock on doors to see if the public has a plan.
In fact, Willis’ plan for almost everything is knocking on doors.
Even though Willis has no plan, the answer is pretty easy to find. The Richmond 2018-19 General Fund budget of $168 million includes $58 million for Police – 34% of the total (The total Public Safety budget, including the Fire Department is $99 million).
Richmond has already reduced the number of sworn officers from 196 in 2014-15 to 178 in 2018-19, a 10% reduction. A number of officers out on injury or other types of temporary leave makes the number even smaller. Nearly 80% of the department’s budget consists of sworn officers. Lopping 20% off the current budget would be about $12 million and would represent losing about 45 to 60 officers, leaving only 118 to 133. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that beat coverage and response times would take a major hit.
Why do some cities have a lower per capita expenditure on police compared to Richmond? Mostly because they have a much lower crime rate. Although on a downward trend, the overall Richmond, CA crime rate is 45% higher than the California average and is 53% higher than the national average. Looking at violent crime specifically, Richmond, CA has a violent crime rate that is 106% higher than the California average and 138% higher than the national average. For property crime, Richmond, CA is 34% higher than the California average and 39% higher than the national average.
What is scary is that Willis is one of five Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) members of the City Council (three of whom are on the powerful RPA Steering Committee). Any four of them could vote at any time to gut the police department.
According to the last community survey ( http://www.ci.richmond.ca.us/3500/2017-Community-Survey) conducted by the City of Richmond, “Reducing Crime” is the most important issue for Richmond residents, with 95% agreeing that it is “essential” or “very important.” In the same survey, 58% felt that the police had a positive impact on their health and well-being (second-highest behind only parks), while only 12% felt police had a negative impact. Apparently Melvin and his supporters are part of the 12%.
What Melvin wants to do is transfer police funding to youth programs. Now, I also support robust funding for youth. That’s why I negotiated the $35 million Richmond Promise Program to create a college-going culture in schools, encourage kids to go to college and assist high school graduates with generous scholarships. That’s also why I endorsed and signed the ballot argument in favor of Measure H that, if it passes, will increases real estate transfer taxes on high-end properties to add millions of dollars to Richmond youth programs. That’s why I revived the Mayor’s Community Fund (abandoned by the former mayor) to provide tens of thousands of dollars in grants to assist dozens kids sports and recreations programs.
Investing in youth is investing in our future, but ripping up the Police Department to fund youth programs is something only the RPA could dream up. Until Richmond becomes a safer city, people want a fully-staffed police department that can answer calls quickly, beef up patrols in high-crime areas and practice effective community policing.
When someone is breaking into your car or your neighbor’s house, threatening you with bodily harm, stealing packages off your porch, looking for a hooker on your street, or pointing a gun at you, calling the local youth program is not going to solve your problem.
Both Melvin Willis and the RPA are out of touch with reality. They live in a world where all corporations are evil, all landlords are greedy, profit is a profane word and cops cause crime.
If you want fewer cops, vote for Melvin. If you want a robust police department, vote for me.