PHOENIX — On Tuesday, protesters questioned city council members' responsiveness to community concerns as the council moves forward with a $43 million increase to the Phoenix police budget.
More than 50 representatives of Black Lives Matter- PHX Metro, Poder In Action, Semillas Az, Fund for Empowerment, Chispa AZ, UUJAZ, Phoenix Local Organizing Committee gathered outside the Phoenix City Council Chambers.
Inside, the meeting included a review of public input during budget hearings in March and April. There were 199 comments for reducing the police budget or at least opposing more funding. There were 26 comments for more funding for police officers, 911 operators, and civilian hiring and training, according to the city manager's report. The city made no changes to the draft police budget in response to the budget hearing comments.
The leader of Poder in Action said she expected the council, which has a progressive, female majority, to better understand families calling for fewer deadly police encounters.
"We are demanding that they stop rewarding the Phoenix Police Department for the racist and hurtful and violent behavior that has been exposed time after time again, and to lead, and to stop this," said Viridiana Hernandez, Poder in Action's executive director.
The community groups demanded:
- No new civilian positions for Phoenix police
- Move $10 million from the Phoenix police “crime suppression squad”
- COVID relief for the people, not police
- More funding for free transportation
- Rehabilitation services in West Phoenix
- Housing support
- Fully public police union contract negotiations
Phoenix's assistant city manager discussed the rationale behind increasing the police budget instead of defunding it to funnel more money into community services.
Assistant City Manager Jeff Barton said the police department today has 400 fewer officers and less overall spending than in FY2007-2008, before the Great Recession.
"In effect, they have been to some extent largely defunded because our population has continued to increase, as well as our calls for service have increased," Barton said.
The city manager's office told ABC15, most of the increased funding in the draft budget goes to pay raises, which all city employees are receiving in FY 2021-2022. An additional $3.7 million is earmarked for accountability and transparency measures, such as public records clerks and data reporting.
The final budget vote occurs in June.