Around the country, city and state leaders were weighing overhauls of their policing policies, aware of the delicate balance of voters’ concerns about crime versus their repulsion at police brutality.
In Albany, New York State lawmakers on Monday began passing a wide-ranging package of bills targeting police misconduct, overcoming deep-seated opposition from law enforcement unions. The measures, many of which have languished for years, include a ban on the use of chokeholds as well as the repeal of a decades-old statute that has effectively hidden the disciplinary records of police officers from public view.
Last week, a City Council budget meeting in Nashville stretched on for more than eight hours, coming to a close well after midnight as residents organized by a coalition of community groups lined up to demand that the police budget be cut.
The idea of removing money from police forces, once largely put forth for years by academics and advocacy groups, appeared to be shifting into the spotlight, as activists and elected officials in cities like Nashville, Portland, Ore., and Denver weighed the possibility.
“This is totally new,” said Stacie Gilmore, City Council member for a largely Latino and African-American district in Denver who had received 2,500 emails in the past three days demanding the city defund the police. “We’re always scrambling to get enough resources. Our Police Department by default serves as social worker, therapist, family counselor, career counselor. We don’t need the police to do that job anymore. It’s not working for communities of color.”
Late last week, after several days of protests, Mayor Ted Wheeler of Portland announced an end to school resource officers, freeing up $1 million to be used elsewhere with community input, according to Tim Becker, a spokesman for the mayor.
Around the country, the calls from activists and other leaders for defunding police departments have taken on different meanings in different places. Most pleas for defunding the police do not signal a wish to end efforts at public safety. Rather, officials say they want to stop spending millions of dollars on certain items for the police, such as military-style equipment. Some proposals seek to trim the number of officers, a prospect that could force a debate over union contracts.
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