Republicans Want to Gut Arizona Cities That Cut Police Budgets

AP Photo/Matt York

By Bree Burkitt

January 19, 2021

As of Monday, HB 2310 has yet to be scheduled for a public hearing.

Arizona cities could soon find themselves stripped of state funding if they attempt to cut the budgets of police departments. 

Under House Bill 2310, any city or county that cuts the budgets of their respective police agency by 10% or more would lose the same amount in state funding.

Nearly every house Republican signed onto the bill as of Monday.

No Arizona city has significantly stripped police funding despite a national and local movement to reallocate money away from law enforcement and to community resources instead.

Arizona Police Association Executive Director Joe Clure said he saw the proposed bill as a proactive measure to protect the public from dramatic increases and decreases with regards to public safety. 

However, activists say it’s an overreach of power attempting to distract from the real issues at hand.

“Instead of addressing police violence and creating a safer state, this is an attempt by a white supremacist-aligned legislature to prevent accountability and transparency of violent police,” said Viri Hernandez, executive director of Poder in Action, an Arizona-based nonprofit focused on violence by police against people of color. “The state should not be interfering with how cities manage their budgets, it is our money as taxpayers within that city to decide. “

How Would This Work?

The bill would require any reductions in the police budget to be investigated by the Arizona Attorney General. From there, the AG would then issue a report detailing whether the reduction in funds cuts the agency’s budget by 10% or more from the previous year’s budget. The report would then be provided to the governor, senate president, speaker of the house of representatives, and the members who made the request for the investigation. 

If the cut does meet the 10% threshold, the AG would then alert the county or city that they have 30 days to restore the budget reduction, or else the state treasurer would withhold and redistribute the same amount of state funds equaling what was cut from the law enforcement budget. They would get the money back once the law enforcement agency’s budget is restored to the pre-cut amount, which would then make the city eligible to get the withheld state funding. 

The bill notes that this will only apply to cities or counties that specifically cut police funding and would not include those that cut the overall budget by at least 10%.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Bret Roberts, R-LD11, and co-sponsored by a slew of others, including Brenda Barton, Leo Biasiucci, Walt Blackman, Shawnna Bolick, Rusty Bowers, Judy Burges, Frank Carroll, Joseph Chaplik, Regina Cobb, Tim Dunn, John Fillmore, Mark Finchem, Travis Grantham, Gail Griffin, Jake Hoffman, Steve Kaiser, John Kavanagh, Quang Nguyen, Becky Nutt, Joanne Osborne, Jacqueline Parker, Kevin Payne, Beverly Pingerelli, Ben Toma, and Justin Wilmeth.

HB 2310 has yet to be scheduled for a public hearing.

Arizona Cities Have Yet to Strip Police Budgets

Protesters called for city councils throughout Maricopa County to cut police budgets and instead reinvest the funds in community programs and police oversight over the summer. The “defund police” movement surged in the wake of civil unrest triggered by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers and a number of notable excessive force cases locally. 

Cities across the country called for city councils to restructure their annual budgets by moving funding for police departments to community resources. 

The impact of the movement on Arizona law enforcement budgets was mixed. Phoenix City Council voted to fully fund the Phoenix Police Department, the state’s largest agency in 2020. 

The approved budget also included an additional $3 million for a new civilian-led police oversight office by pulling money from leftover COVID-19 relief funds, reduced jail costs, and savings from city-operated facilities closed by the pandemic. Community activists wanted city leaders to secure funding for the office by cutting 25% of the police department’s budget.

The creation of the office has since come to a standstill after the Phoenix City Council rejected an ordinance that would have officially established the office. Councilman Carlos Garcia told the Phoenix New Times the police accountability issue is likely dead until Councilman Michael Nowakowski is out of office later this year and his replacement selected.

Clure said he isn’t aware of any cities that have actually cut police funding. 

“It hasn’t happened in Arizona, but it has across the country and I think they’re [lawmakers] taking preventative measures,” Clure said. 

He noted that even a 10% budget cut for police and sheriff’s departments could be devastating and could result in cuts in staffing, departmental budgets, and other consequences. It could have serious impacts on smaller departments. For example, a 10% cut would mean a reduction of more than $1.3 million for a department like Prescott police, which serves a population of nearly 43,000.

“There’s no question,” he said. “I think that would be a significant cut to anyone’s budget.”

Typically, defunding proposals advocate for shifting the funds from law enforcement to community services, which in turn decreases reliance on police. 

If the bill were passed, Hernandez said cities many cities would be forced to deprive other services to avoid cutting the police department budget past the proposed 10% threshold as they attempt to recover from the financial blow of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“A bill like this would make a city choose which critical services to cut, instead of being able to cut from bloated police budgets that take almost 60% of general funds.”

READ MORE: Seven Months After George Floyd’s Killing — Has Policing Really Changed in Arizona?

Contact reporter Bree Burkitt at [email protected].


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