By DANIEL KITTREDGE In the wake of the Minnesota killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police and the widespread demonstrations that have followed, a new call has emerged from some quarters - "e;defund the police."e; The specifics behind, and
In the wake of the Minnesota killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police and the widespread demonstrations that have followed, a new call has emerged from some quarters – “defund the police.”
The specifics behind, and implications of, that message can vary significantly.
In Minneapolis, for example, a majority of the City Council has expressed its support for dismantling the community’s police department – a prescription that remains vague but speaks to a desire to radically alter the structure of local law enforcement.
Others have called for a more limited approach to “defunding” – redirecting some funding from police departments to other areas, such as social services and education.
In Cranston, a number of elected officials recently received letters from supporters of the defund movement. Two of the messages viewed by the Herald are identical – form letters to be signed by individual community members, like a petition – and state that the city “desperately need to change [its] financial priorities and let our tax dollars go to our community, not cops.”
The letters are addressed to Gov. Gina Raimondo, Mayor Allan Fung and members of the City Council, and they call for officials to “adopt a budget redirecting all funding from the Cranston Police Department to initiatives that better serve the wellbeing of the community.”
Responses from several council members suggest there is little appetite for such a drastic approach, although support exists for other reforms.
Citywide Councilman Steve Stycos, a candidate for mayor, provided a copy of his response to one of the constituents who sent a pro-defunding letter. He wrote about the city's experience during the so-called “Ticketgate” episode in late 2013, at which time Stycos represented Ward 1 on the council.
In that incident, the wards of Stycos and former Ward 3 Councilman Paul Archetto were blanketed with parking tickets following their votes against a new contract with the city’s police union.
“Cranston is lucky to have a capable and professional police department, but this has not always been true. We had major problems with police misconduct during the Ticketgate scandal, but since the chief, the number two in the department and the union president were replaced, the department has been professional. I played a major role in forcing those reforms,” Stycos writes. “Should you know of more recent problems with the Cranston police, I would like to hear about them. If problems do develop in the future, I will criticize those who are responsible and work for reform, but I certainly do not favor abolishing the police department. That would lead to chaos.”
He added: “I hope when the 2021-2022 budget is considered next April, you will participate and advocate for education. The city has lagged in its contribution to public education. Since 2014, state aid for Cranston schools has increased 49 percent, while city aid to the school department has increased only 3 percent. During the same time period, city funding for the second largest department, the fire department, has increased 10 percent and the third largest department, the police department, has increased 26 percent. This year no students and only one parent spoke on the school budget. No one spoke on the police or fire budgets.”
In an additional email response, Stycos said he does favor reforming the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, or LEOBOR. State Sen. Harold Metts of Providence has announced plans to seek legislation that would overhaul LEOBOR, which was adopted in 1976.
Stycos said the lengthy process that led to the retirement of the officer who ordered the “Ticketgate” ticketing blitz, and other aspects of that incident and its fallout, illustrate the need for reform.
“Every worker is entitled to a fair unbiased hearing when fired or disciplined, but the current law makes the process expensive and encourages municipalities to avoid disciplining officers for serious offenses …We need a quicker process that does not encourage delays by disciplined officers or politicians unable to make a decision,” Stycos writes.
Ward 3 Councilman John Donegan said in a statement that he is supportive of reform efforts but opposes any proposal to abolish the existing local law enforcement structure.
“I fully support Black Lives Matter, and stand in solidarity with anyone fighting oppression, injustice, and racism; and I will show up to listen, and do everything I can in my role to help foster a more just and equitable Cranston for everyone. I do believe that our Cranston Police Department makes great effort to build trust and relationships within our community, and I do not support abolishing the Police; though, to be clear, that is not what the movement to #DefundThePolice is advocating for,” Donegan wrote in an email. “With that said, I have never received so much outreach from residents on an issue like the one facing all communities, including Cranston. As a City Councilmember, it is my duty to change old laws, and enact new ones to ensure the safety and welfare of all. As a person, it is my moral duty to help build a community in which every one feels safe, and welcomed, in our City regardless of color. Clearly, we have work to do in order to achieve that. Reform is necessary.”
Ward 6 Councilman Michael Favicchio, in an op-ed that appears in full in this week’s edition, writes that defunding the city’s Police Department would be “just plain dangerous.”
“While all of us feel what happened in Minneapolis was horrific and avoidable, we have to exercise sound judgment in managing the city,” he writes. “My questions to those that propose having no police are simple. Who would you call if your home or car were broken into? Who would you call if you were a victim of domestic abuse or sexual assault? Who would you call if there were an active shooter in one of our schools? I trust the answer is clear.”
Favicchio also points to the work of school resource officers and ongoing efforts to diversify the ranks of the city’s police force.
“Our command staff is highly professional and is very interactive with the community they serve,” he writes. “We all need to step back and employ common sense in dealing with problems in our city. That is what we do on the council and will continue to do.”
Council President Michael Farina also responded to the issue through a statement, writing that the “time is NOW to work together to eliminate the issues that divide us, eradicate institutional racism, come together to heal our divides, and work to achieve social justice for all.”
In terms of the defunding movement, he writes: “I understand why, in the midst of recent harrowing, traumatic events, some people may believe this dramatic measure might initially solve the problem … Large-scale cuts in police spending would detrimentally impact our City and risk the safety and well being of our citizens. Defunding our Police Department would result in a rise in traffic offenses and crime within our community. Research shows that hiring police officers leads to reductions in crime and that investments in police are an efficient means of crime control. Defunding law enforcement would unnecessarily jeopardize our citizens as well as the honest, hard-working men and women of the Police and Fire Department.”
Farina – who has received the backing of the city’s police union in his own campaign for mayor – writes that during his time on the City Council, “many constituents have repeatedly expressed their desire to see more Police Patrols in our City, more Officers working overnight, and heightened policing in our neighborhoods.”
He continues: “I would argue that we need more Police Officers, not less. Consider this: for cities of similar sizes, Cranston’s violent crime rate is 26% less than Warwick’s, and Cranston’s police budget is 17% higher. Importantly, we should also be advocating for more minorities in these positions. Instead of Defunding the Police, we should be providing educational and training opportunities to all public service employees on the issue of racism. This should be a priority. For example, I have been passionate about implementing a Diversity Committee specifically for the retaining and hiring of minorities in the fire and police departments. I also want to start a dedicated Office of Diversity within the Cranston mayoral administration which would take a broader approach at prioritizing Diversity in the community.”