Tempe City Council to meet Thursday for public budget hearing

A number of various resolutions are contingent upon a budget approval, including the police department

Tempe City Council's Thursday regular meeting will hear final community comments on next year's budget, property taxes and will read a number of proposals regarding building inspections, wastewater treatment, human resource software and more. 

The budget hearing comes as a number of city councils across the nation, including Phoenix, hear from constituents about defunding police departments, holding police officers accountable and funding social services.

Protests across the nation following the death of George Floyd sparked a conversation about racism, a learned belief system that political activism clubs agree is a one-sided issue about humanity. The way society and local governments move forward however, through education and social change, has protesters calling for police reform in a number of ways.

Tempe's proposed budget for police in the 2020-2021 fiscal year is over $102 million, which makes up 13% of the city's overall $777 million department budget. This would make the police department the second-most-funded city department.

The capital department – responsible for discussing taxes and setting aside money for emergencies in order to prepare for any unpredicted or unforeseen significant impact to the way a city operates and generates revenue – received the largest funding of just over $235 million.

"Budgeting is a planning document and it is a statement of priorities," said Akheil Singla, an assistant professor in the School of Public Affairs at the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions whose research focuses on local, public financial management.

Singla said if completely defunding a police force is something constituents want, and something city council members can agree on, the funds would go directly back to the city council for different kinds of reallocation.

If a police budget were to be completely zeroed out, the possibilities of where the money could go or projects it could fund are essentially endless, Singla said. He explained if the money were to go to education, the most probable way of doing so would be through grants delivered to school districts who approve their own budgets. 

Singla said he's heard numerous definitions of what it means to defund or abolish the police force. 

He said he suspects that if defunding a city's police department occurs and the council decides it needs a different form of law enforcement, money could go to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department, but he said he isn't sure that's what protesters and activists want.

Justin Remelius, chair of Young Democratic Socialists of America at ASU and a senior studying philosophy and political science, said the club supports defunding the police as a step toward abolishment of a department he said "upholds white supremacy and capitalism."

Remelius said the club believes it's imperative to research the ways in which deescalating techniques used by police forces, any actions used to slow down a possible perpetrator which could include physical contact, have not always been effective in deescalating situations.

Other student groups said they aren't sure what would take the place of law enforcement, like Singla predicts, if funding is put elsewhere or if the department is no longer given its usual resources.

"I think the number one priority is making sure the criminal justice system is just," said Joe Pitts, president of ASU College Republicans and a sophomore studying business law. 

Pitts said he wasn't opposed to the expansion of social services, but making the police force either obsolete or taking away its funding is not the best way to create a fair and just system for everyone under the law.

Pitts said there's ways to remove officers who have committed wrongdoing or are under review while Remelius said if people want to support community-based solutions, the entire system has to change.

"Our model for solving any societal problem right now is the police," Remelius said. "What do you do when you see a homeless man? You call the police. What do you do if someone is having a mental health crisis? You call the police. There's better ways.

"And by defunding the police and using the funding to actually address these problems rather than just throwing it at police, it provides community safety and community health," Remelius said.

The University of Minnesota cut ties with the Minneapolis Police Department following the killing of George Floyd on May 25. Pitts said police officers on campus are there to serve the community and "do good."

"I think it's a ridiculous measure to sever ties with any police department," Pitts said.

Phoenix City Council approved its budget Monday, with almost $3 million going to a new Office of Accountability and Transparency, which will create a more independent liaison position for investigating claims of police officer misconduct.

When someone files a complaint against an officer, an investigation will automatically begin within the Police Department's Professional Standards Bureau and someone from the new office would be part of the investigation, as reported by The Arizona Republic.

Two separate reports would be written with conclusions of the investigation and the police chief would determine if disciplinary action was necessary.

The money for the new office will not cut other city services or city jobs because most of the money came from federal COVID-19 support and other city savings over the past three months, The Arizona Republic reports.

David Howman, president of ASU College Libertarians and a graduate student studying justice studies, said the Phoenix community review board is one step in the right direction to a possible top-to-bottom reform of a city's police department. 

He explained the libertarian agenda is one that has always emphasized personal liberty and government official accountability, which is why the club proposes city and state governments put an end to qualified immunity. 

The legal doctrine says government officials cannot be held personally liable for actions or misconduct committed on the job unless it clearly violated established rights.

No budget items for the Tempe City Council meeting suggest a plan to create a community review board.


Reach the reporter at pjhanse1@asu.edu and follow @piperjhansen on Twitter. 

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