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Speakers at city budget hearing demand cuts in police budget

CITY HALL – Speaker after speaker at a two-hour teleconference hearing Friday on the proposed city budget favored cutting the police budget and shifting it to services they believed could better cut crime.

About 18 of the 32 speakers favored such cuts as the elimination of funding for the approximately 150 vacant positions on the police force; programs to detect where shots are being fired; and another SWAT program. They said the money saved should go toward eliminating reductions for the affordable housing program, mental health services and social services.

“For years, we have been asking you to move beyond the arrest-and-incarcerate model of policing. And around the country, people are realizing the error of the old lock ‘em up mentality,” said Keith Rose, who is on the steering committee of the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression.

“We all know that undoing the damage caused by out-of-control police departments is the civil rights issue of our time,” Rose said. 

The Board of Estimate and Apportionment, made up of the mayor, comptroller and president of the Board of Aldermen, is considering a proposed police budget of $160 million in a $511.5 million proposed general fund budget for governmental purposes. The total proposed operating fund – including the general fund, the airport, the water division and other purposes – is $1,153.6 billion.

After the E&A board makes changes and approves the budget, it will send it over to the Board of Aldermen for consideration. That board can reduce budget items but not increase them. 

The Board of Aldermen and the E&A board must take final action by July 1. 

During Friday’s hearing, 24th Ward resident Maisha Khan spoke strongly in favor of cutting back police funding. She said money should go toward eliminating environmental risks that contribute to health, economic and quality of life disparities among black children.

“Black children in the city of St. Louis are 2.4 times more likely than white children to test positive for lead in their blood,” Khan said. “Most of the city’s air pollution souces are located in our neighborhoods of color.”

Christine Drogonette was among those who said there should be cuts in the police budget to avoid cuts in the Affordable Housing Trust Fund below a minimum of $6.5 million. Through that program, the city’s Affordable Housing Commission provides subsidies to homebuyers who need extra help.

A number of the speakers at Friday’s meeting said that program shouldn’t be cut. They included both people who wanted reductions in police funding and those who didn’t bring that issue up. 

“I have stable work that allows me to take time out of my day to be here and speak up for some of those who can’t,” said James Fister, who opposed any cut in funding for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. “Housing is a human right. We all deserve access to affordable quality housing. … We all deserve access to affordable quality health care. Those who face housing instability or have experienced homelessness unfairly suffer increased health issues and medical expenses.”

Both Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed and Comptroller Darlene Green said the large number of speakers on Friday was much better than the handful who spoke at previous hearings on the budget. A total of 32 spoke, and 37 submitted written testimony before the meetings.

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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