What can our City do with $5 million dollars? Part II-Defund the Police

Last week the El Cerrito Council met to discuss budget cuts that would result in the lay-off of employees (non-management) and slashing of services. The city is trying to stay afloat financial quicksand, now looking at 5.5 million dollars in reductions. How do they plan to reduce: cut library hours, cut pool hours, remove subsidies for day care and senior meals, lay-off longtime custodial workers and outsource for cheaper labor. What if a 12 million dollar police department was only 6 million dollars? Shocking you might say? Let’s look at some facts. Can we defund our police and move 5 million dollars out of a 12 million dollar budget?

  1. The Police Chief is already downsizing job descriptions. He has agreed that officers are no longer responding to calls that are simply not crimes. In a recent presentation to City Council and the community he explained that the type of mediation that police do, should in actuality not be police driven.
  2. Arrests in our community are down, as police are doing less calls, but crime isn’t going up. It remains the same. So perhaps its not policing that reduces crime, maybe it has something to do with where and how people use public space or don’t use public space. Maybe crime is driven by economics and if so, maybe we should be considering local job creation.
  3. Chief Keith doesn’t necessarily believe that police can actually prevent crime, but he does believe that the role of the police is to identify the perpetrator and bring this person to justice. As he stated verbatim “If we can’t stop a crime from happening our job is to determine who is doing the crime and bring them to justice.”

We think it is worthwhile for you to listen to the early part of the meeting and hear some of Chief Keith’s comments. https://elcerritoca.civicclerk.com/Web/Player.aspx?id=316&key=-1&mod=-1&mk=-1&nov=0

And finally, why does El Cerrito have a 12 million dollar budget for a population of 25,000? Some city council members conclude that the large police budget is a result of our proximity in the Bay Area. True, our crime per 1,000 residents is higher than the city of Hercules, which has half the budget for policing. But are the police actually preventing crime, or simply responding to crime. And if that is the case, what other mechanisms as a community can we develop to prevent crime. Can we use public space more aggressively, have well lit streets, build more community? According to Chief Keith’s Annual report of last year, much of the violent crime centered on homelessness. Police can’t solve homelessness, but housing can and so can jobs and so can services.

I want to end with the following questions: Has anyone not had a car stolen because of the police? Has anyone not had your house robbed because of the police? Has anyone not been assaulted because of the police? If the answer is no, let’s defund the police-reimagine a different force in our community that works with us to ensure that public space is well used. Spend more money on streets that are well lit, and provide more services to help keep people in their homes.

Policing has served the “well to-do” for so many years. Policing has protected the haves from the have nots. More recently, policing expanded into social work. But when it comes down to the final analysis, policing really isn’t about building community. Why are we willing to sacrifice services that bring a community together in order to maintain a historically racist and violent system used to decimate poor communities and communities of color. The system of policing is severely broken-can we not ask to transform it?

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