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Boston City Council Hears Calls To Move Money From Police

A protester in West Roxbury urges calls for defunding the police. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
A protester in West Roxbury urges calls for defunding the police. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Boston residents are calling on the city to reallocate some of the more than $400 million spent on policing, in favor of other community services they say could respond better.

The calls come amid nationwide protests, including in Boston, over racial injustice and police brutality.

A diverse array of about 70 people testified during a more than four-hour long public budget hearing of the Boston city council's ways and means committee on Tuesday. Councilor Kenzie Bok, the committee chair, said councilors have received thousands of emails about the budget.

Before the hearing, many councilors said the city budget should be a demonstration of values and morals, and most indicated they would support some type of reallocation from the police. Councilor Michelle Wu said this budget, as protests and the pandemic continue, will be closely scrutinized.

"Every dollar should go to funding a community building process that is equitable and effective and that involves looking at the big picture," Wu said. "We know the ways we've been funding public safety have not led to the safest outcomes."

Among the residents testifying was Morgan Coe, a former teacher. He said he was at a recent protest in Boston and saw police aggressively respond. He recalled helping a young woman who had been pepper sprayed by police.

"This was a genuinely disturbing experience and it's hard for me to imagine what kind of institutional culture allowed a police officer to pepper spray this young teenager at close range," Coe told the committee. "The BPD has been acting more like an occupying army than a community force sworn to serve and protect their fellow Bostonians. As a citizen and a voter, I urge you to stop rewarding this kind of gross violence with an expanding budget and unlimited overtime."

Overtime was also a key issue. The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts presented an analysis indicating that more than 500 Boston police officers earn more than $200,000 a year — more than Mayor Marty Walsh.

Much of that pay is from overtime, with Boston spending $60 million a year just on overtime for police. Most of those who testified asked for the police budget to be cut by 10%, and said much of that should come from the overtime budget.

The Boston Police Department budget for the next fiscal year is $414 million. The residents told councilors that some of that money would be better spent elsewhere. They want the money reallocated toward things such as COVID-19 relief, education, youth jobs programs, housing and community programs. They argued that people working in those areas could handle issues that police are often called for, such as mental health and substance use.

Many said that there is too much of a police presence in the city when other resources are needed and services, such as more social workers, could deescalate situations before police would be called.

Leslie Credle, of Dorchester, told the councilors that she believes that a lack of community resources contributed to the unsolved shooting of her daughter, Brianna Hardy, in 2017.

"I blame the Boston Police and the system for my daughter's murder," Credle said. "I blame the system for the fate of our youth today. I blame the system for over-policing and turning our communities into chaos."

Boston Police did not respond to requests for comment. Neither did the police union representing Boston officers or the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers.

Mayor Walsh says he is considering several options as he prepares a revised budget for the next fiscal year. In a statement Tuesday, Walsh said he proposed a level funded budget for police — meaning the department would get the same amount of money as last year — while increasing money for housing and schools.

"I've spent the last week talking with my cabinet and employees at city hall about how do we not just react to the events in Minneapolis, but make sure we are responding in a way that’s meaningful and brings about systemic change," Walsh's statement said. "Now is a time to roll up our sleeves and get real work done, not separately as the mayor and city council, but together as one government."

Walsh says he plans to collaborate with city councilors. He is expected to submit a revised budget to the council by Monday. Then the council will schedule more hearings.

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Deborah Becker Twitter Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.

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