BREAKING: Phoenix Banks on Pandemic-Related Savings to Fund Civilian Oversight

BREAKING: Phoenix Banks on Pandemic-Related Savings to Fund Civilian Oversight

Protesters rally Wednesday, June 3, 2020, in Phoenix, demanding the Phoenix City Council defund the Phoenix Police Department. The protest is a result of the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (AP Photo/Matt York)

By Jessica Swarner, Farah Eltohamy

June 8, 2020

The city stopped short of diverting police funding to pay for the new oversight committee.

Phoenix officials voted Monday to divert nearly $3 million in anticipated pandemic-related savings to the newly-created civilian oversight committee, sparing the police department from potential budget cuts.

The Phoenix City Council voted 7-2 Monday to fully fund civilian oversight of police using pandemic-related savings instead of cutting money from the police budget. 

The oversight funding will come from two avenues – one, the city can be reimbursed with relief funds for the money it paid to employees on coronavirus-related leave, which frees up some cash. The city has also racked up some savings from discontinuing services like community pools during the pandemic, as well as arresting fewer people. 

RELATED: Activists Call for Phoenix to Defund Police

Deputy City Manager Jeff Barton assured councilmembers that this move would not jeopardize city employees’ planned 1% raises, cause layoffs, or directly result in cuts to community programs. However, he said, he couldn’t guarantee those assurances in the future due to the uncertainty of the country’s economy. 

The Phoenix budget originally allocated $400,000 for the oversight Community Review Board and Office of Accountability and Transparency, but supporters said it needed $3 million. 

Activists also called for the Council to cut the police budget by at least 25%, but the idea was not considered during Monday’s meeting. 

The Council had met last week to vote on the budget but after hearing hours of public calls to defund the police, councilmembers decided to continue the vote to Monday. However, this time around, the Council did not hear any public testimony.

 The vote comes days after the Council’s failure to pass a similar plan last week that would have sharply increased funding for a newly established civilian oversight committee for the police department.

RELATED: Phoenix City Council Reschedules Budget Vote After Public Demands It Defunds Police

The council voted 5-4 against the proposal to raise funding for the new Office of Accountability and Transparency (OAT) from $400,000 to $2.9 million, saying it was more important to get the office up and running first and that funds could be added later as needed. Monday’s vote allowed for the full funding of the OAT without drawing from the police department’s budget.

The series of heated votes came on the heels of days of clashes between police and demonstrators protesting the deaths last month of Dion Johnson in Phoenix and George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police officers.

Phoenix was the largest city in the U.S. without a civilian review board, according to a 2018 report by the National Police Foundation. That same year, Phoenix posted the highest number of officer-involved shootings in the nation, 44, of which 23 were fatal, the report said.

At the outset of Wednesday’s hearing, Council Member Carlos Garcia described the budget as a “moral document,” that needed to reflect the needs of the city.

Public comments submitted surrounding the budget were overwhelmingly in support of cutting the police department’s budget by up to 25%. The $745 million proposed for police next year is a 3.3% increase over the current year’s spending. The overall proposed city budget for fiscal 2021 is just over $5 billion.

RELATED: What it Means to Defund the Police

In an impassioned phone call during last week’s debate, Poder in Action Executive Director Viri Hernandez said Mayor Kate Gallego and council members had not acknowledged the more than 2,500 people who left budget comments online, or the 600 people standing outside “risking their lives in 109 degree weather.”

“We want to know Mayor Gallego, what are your actions? No more one of your words, we want to know – what are your actions?” she demanded.

In response to Monday’s vote, Poder in Action said that the Council’s decision was a win, but still hope to see police department funding be diverted into other community programs.

The final vote on the budget will be June 17.

Cronkite News contributed to this report.

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