Tom Butt
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  Hang Onto Your Stuff - RPA Defunds Police
June 16, 2021

After hours of public testimony by nearly 90 speakers and another hour of speeches by City Council members, the four Richmond Progressive Alliance affiliated City Council  members accomplished what they have been working on for a year by defunding the Richmond Police Department. On a 4-2-1 vote at midnight With Butt and Bates dissenting and Johnson abstaining, the City Council adopted Option E, shown below, which reduces the Police Department Budget for FY 2021-22 by $3 million.

Option E funds a program budget of $6.38M in FY 2021-22 by increasing the expenditures related to homelessness/unhoused interventions by $800,000 above Option A through various funding sources. Under Option E, the Police Department budget is reduced by $3M, resulting in a permanent reduction of 12 sworn officer positions (same operational impact as described under Option A). It requires the use of FY 2020-21 excess funds, as well as the elimination of $1.6M in vehicle purchases proposed for FY2021-22.

The funding options provided by the city manager for the Reimagine Public Safety Task Force recommendations were as follows:

  • Option A: Total year-1 funding would be $5.58M with $2.3M coming from reductions in the Police Department budget. This is staff’s recommended option and would enable the City to methodically design and implement the various programs proposed by the Task Force. This preferred approach would enable staff to comply with all applicable rules, while ensuring that the programs were effective and responsive to the needs of the community and ensure there are no gaps in services while implementation actions are undertaken.
  • Option B: Total year-1 funding would be $10.28M and would be derived exclusively from permanent reductions in the Police Department budget.
  • Option C: Total year-1 funding would be $10.28M but would be funded from a variety of sources including $3M from reductions in the Police Department budget.
  • Option D: Total year-1 funding would be $5.58M with sustainable sources of funding including $3M from permanent reductions the Police Department budget.
  • Option E: Total year-1 funding would be $6.38M funded from a variety of sources including $3M from permanent reductions the Police Department budget.
  • Option F: Total year-1 funding would be $6.38M funded from a variety of sources, but with no monies coming from reductions in the Police Department budget. The following is a more detailed analysis of the various options with brief descriptions of the differences between the impacts of each option.

There were 88 speakers, with most advocating for Option E or Option F.  

Johnson made a motion for Option A, but the motion died for lack of a second.

After the motion for Option E was made, Butt made a substitute motion for Option F, seconded by Bates. The motion failed with a vote of 2-4-1, with Johnson abstaining.

Option F, which would have funded all the alternative programs recommend by the Reimagine Public Safety Task Force but not with a reduction of the police budget. Option F had wide community support, including all neighborhood councils, the Richmond Neighborhood Coordinating Council, the Community Police Review Commission, the 23rd Street Merchants Association and thousands of residents who sent emails to the City Council.

Clearly, defunding the police was a policy statement chosen by the RPA with a priority higher than the social programs they wanted to fund.

According to Police Chief Bisa French, the loss of 12 sworn officer positions are on top of 34 police department positions , including 20 sworn officers, eliminated in the 2020-21 budget. Note that former mayor Gayle McLaughlin continues to brag that crime dropped 75% during her administration, but that was when Chris Magnus was chief and had implemented a nationally recognized community policing program with 194 sworn officers. The new RPA plan will result in only 145 sworn officers and the end of community policing. Chief French said losses of police services will include:

  • Ability to shift resources quickly will be (and has been) hampered. Why?  Our focus has been on providing basic patrol and investigative needs.  Patrol staffing has been our primary focus due to the fact that community needs begin with a patrol response.  Adequately staffing the patrol teams absorbs the bulk of our personnel resources.  Patrol officers are assigned to fixed schedules.  Therefore, when emerging needs arise (e.g.: recent gang-related violence), addressing those needs falls onto the one remaining team who are able to re-focus their efforts at a moment’s notice (e.g.: CVRT).  This team has been depleted and currently consists of only one supervisor and 4 detectives.  This staffing does not allow for 7 day a week coverage, therefore, we have to utilize officers on overtime to be able to cover additional hours when we experience spikes in crimes.  In past years, we had two street teams that maintained seven day per week coverage, and were able to be re-shifted to such crime trends and district/beat/neighborhood needs.  These are the types of resources that have been lost as our sworn staffing levels have been reduced over the past few years. One additional constraint of being able to quickly move resources involves the MOU.  We cannot, absent an emergency situation, change an officer’s shift without adequate notice (60 days).
  • Ability to focus on long-term investigations will be (and has been) hampered. Why?  Our current investigative staff is about half of what they used to be.  Our current staffing allows for very minimal time in addressing cold-cases.  Our homicide team is currently stretched thin just to be able to handle the workload.  Focusing on older cases is a service we cannot provide with the current resources.  Additionally, we used to have detectives focused on crimes such as identity theft/computer crimes.  In most cases, these investigations are very labor and time-intensive.  With our current staffing, these crimes (unless there are strong leads) cannot be given the attention they are due.  Our domestic violence and sexual assault cases have not diminished in numbers but the number of detectives assigned to those cases has diminished.  These are multi-disciplinary investigations, in many cases, that require a significant amount of time and resources from our investigative staff. Robberies continue to plague the Richmond community, yet we only have enough detectives to primarily handle in-custody robbery cases, leaving very little time to investigate cases with existing leads. Our intelligence unit cannot properly focus on gathering intelligence at this time due to the need to have them focused on combatting retaliatory shootings.  In the past, we had detectives assigned specifically to this function in order to gain intelligence to thwart and deter future acts of violence and other criminal issues (potentially this could have included human trafficking, fireworks and side-show activity).  Moreover, our ability to focus on human trafficking has been diminished due to the fact that the detective focused on these efforts is also relied upon by the DSVU team to assist in their cases.  To add to this, even when human trafficking operations are conducted, the resources are taken from existing detective resources and require overtime officers to provide the needed enforcement teams to safely execute such operations.
  • Ability to focus on “Quality of Life” issues will be (and has been) hampered.  Our previous staffing levels allowed for additional units to focus on quality of life issues.  These issues include human trafficking/prostitution, drug house abatement, open air narcotic sales, homelessness issues, and other complaints that take time to resolve.  As our staffing was reduced, we had no choice but to eliminate these additional units (BRAVO, Street Teams).  This has left the beat officers responsible for dealing with the quality of life projects.  However, the beat officers often do not have the time to devote to such projects.  We have continually utilized overtime to deal with quality of life issues that require more time, effort and coordination to address.  Additional staffing would allow for us to re-establish units to address these ongoing issues and cut down on overtime costs.   

The four RPA members on the City Council are now responsible for crime and any response thereto. If you have crime-related complaints or comments, I suggest you contact them as follows:

Note that these councilmembers do not encourage the public to contact them readily and use phone numbers at the City Hall that are not normally answered by a live person.

From the East Bay Times:

Richmond plans to divert $3 million from police to social services

  • Annie Sciacca
  • PUBLISHED: June 16, 2021 at 12:41 p.m. | UPDATED: June 16, 2021 at 12:45 p.m.
  • Categories: Latest Headlines

RICHMOND — The city is poised to reduce its police budget by $3 million and invest that money in creating a non-police crisis community response team, add funding to homeless services and youth programs and expand its violence prevention office.

In a contentious meeting, a majority of the City Council voted Tuesday to have staff allott $6.83 million next year for those programs and services, combining cuts to the police department and vehicle purchasing budgets as well as excess funding left from this year.

It’s a move that proponents see as an investment in the community and an effort to stabilize people with services to help them access housing, mental health support, jobs and other resources. That, advocates say, will increase public safety.

Councilmember Melvin Willis noted that residents have compared recent spikes in crime to those around 2009 and in the 1990s.

“What I’m seeing as a commonality is financial crisis — people struggling to make ends meet,” Willis said. He believes these investments in social services will help.

Councilmembers Claudia Jimenez, Eduardo Martinez and Gayle McLaughlin agreed, all signaling their support for one of six funding options presented to them by city staff to incorporate into the budget, which needs to be finalized by the end of June.

City staff brought the options to the council after weeks of debate about how to incorporate  recommendations by the city’s Reimagining Public Safety Community Task Force, a group that has convened over the last eight months to look into how the city spends on public safety and what can be changed.

Last month, that task force recommended the city cut $10.3 million — roughly 15% — of the police budget and divert the funds to the programming and non-police response units. While a majority of the City Council expressed support for that, city staff urged that it was not feasible to cut that much, and instead provided multiple options that the council could take to reinvest police dollars into other services.

The option decided by the council on Tuesday will provide $1 million to create a Community Crisis Response Program that would dispatch medics and mental health specialists to behavioral health crises and substance use calls instead of police.

Similar programs have been run in cities like Eugene, Ore., and the idea has gained steam recently in the Bay Area, particularly in the wake of high profile police killings of people experiencing mental health crises. Oakland’s City Council earlier this year approved a pilot program to start a crisis response unit that would be housed in the fire department and staffed by specialists, and city councilmembers are advocating to beef up that program in its next budget cycle. And Contra Costa County is working with local cities to beef up its own behavioral health response service.

The funding plan selected by the council also gives $1.98 million to Richmond’s YouthWorks program, a city program to give teenagers and young adults job training and academic support that in 2020 had about 175 people taking part and a budget of $375,000. The plan will add $1.8 million to beef up services for people struggling with homelessness.

It would also add $1.6 million to the budget of the Office of Neighborhood Safety, which provides violence prevention and intervention efforts and currently has a budget of $1.9 million.

Critics of the plan say it’s foolish to diminish an already stretched-thin police department by defunding it even further. While the plan
approved by the city council Tuesday will not result in any layoffs to existing staff, it would freeze 12 unfilled positions that police leaders hoped to fill this budget cycle.

“There are service level impacts we are already feeling because we don’t have the positions currently,” Police Chief Bisa French told councilmembers during the meeting Tuesday, adding that she anticipates losing even more officers because people are in various stages of applying for other jobs.

Because the police department puts most of its resources to staffing patrol teams, which are assigned to fix schedules, French said they have limited staff for investigations into cold cases or robberies that don’t have strong leads.

In a memo to the council, staff also noted that the police have less time to work on issues including “human trafficking, prostitution, drug house abatement, open air narcotic sales, homelessness issues, and other complaints that take time to resolve.”

But advocates of the investments into social services argue that some of these issues, particularly homelessness, should not be taken up by police but by specialists or civilians who can help resolve the root causes by connecting people with housing, jobs and other support.

Mayor Tom Butt and Councilmember Nat Bates disagreed, noting that many people in Richmond are afraid of crime increasing without more support for police.

“You are making a mistake in defunding this police department,” Bates told his fellow councilmembers. “I have never received as many emails or communications from individual citizens, who are taxpayers and voters, who are totally opposed to defunding the police.”

Butt and Bates voted for an option to use federal money to fund the services instead of cutting the police budget at all.

Vice Mayor Demnlus Johnson abstained from the vote, expressing support instead for an option recommended by city staff that would cut police funding by $2.3 million and give $5.58 million to the recommendations by the task force — a slightly more conservative change from the one ultimately adopted by the council.