Next week, the City Council begins its consideration of the Mayor’s proposed FY 2021 budget. I will be focusing on the police budget.
The Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd has unleashed an outpouring of anger about policing in America. And especially about the way the police and the criminal justice system mistreat people of color. This has amplified the powerful voices that have been calling for fundamental & radical changes in the way we think about policing.
This process had already started in Somerville over the past few years. Mayor Joe Curtatone’s declaration on June 3 that “systemic racism is a public health and safety emergency” and the 10-point policy plan that accompanied it is a major step forward. I look forward to working with Mayor Curtatone and my Council colleagues to enact these proposals and more. (See https://www.somervillema.gov/policereform)
Over 3,000 people have signed the petition “Somerville: Fund Public Services Before Police.” I am reading hundreds of emails I have received in support of this initiative. I am also studying proposals for changes in policing that will increase safety and well-being in our communities, especially for people of color and low-income people. The time has clearly come for a reconceptualization of how we do policing in America. I will work with community residents & government to re-envision what that means for the Somerville Police Department (SPD).
Last June, I made a motion for a $600,000 cut in the Mayor’s proposed police budget, but that motion did not pass. (The Council did cut $160,000.) I suspect this year will be different. I will be looking for larger reductions in the police budget this year, especially since the City budget will take a major hit due to revenue shortfalls from the Covid 19 pandemic.
But I am not in favor of disbanding or defunding the SPD. We need a police department. I know the SPD and its leaders. I worked in the SPD as the Grant Manager from 1995-1998. Much of the money I raised helped support the first steps in community policing. Community policing has changed policing for the better.
The Somerville Police Department is far better than most, and has been on the cutting edge of police reform. There are certainly problems that need to be fixed and policies that need to be reconsidered. There is much room for improvement. And I continue to believe that a significant amount of money in the police budget can be better spent on other necessary community services in Somerville.
You will hear more from me about this in the coming weeks.