Councillor Nolan on the Policy Order to Reallocate Police Department Funds

The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery have sparked a national movement that was long overdue, and have spurred cities and towns to take action on a local level.  

I fully support the policy order proposed for a vote by the Cambridge City Council to reallocate up to $4.1 million from the police department’s FY21 budget (which is the increase compared to this year’s projected spending) into social services to address underlying systemic issues that can lead too many to be involved with the criminal justice system. I have been supportive since I first heard of it. I am thrilled that so many people have been engaged. What is exciting is the range of people advocating for this change. For the people of color who are speaking out, I appreciate your courage and frustration that it has taken so long for a widespread movement, which I hope and expect this wave of activism is. Those of us who are not black must wholeheartedly assert that the system needs change, and that Black Lives Matter.  

Cambridge is lucky – we have a progressive and courageous police commissioner, model policies, anti-bias training, recognition of trauma-informed practices. AND… we are not immune to the need for change and the need to engage in a deep systematic rethink that addresses the flawed model of policing.The Minneapolis police force had many progressive policies in place, and yet its recent actions quite clearly call for change. Cambridge must engage in these conversations, and regardless of how progressive we see ourselves, there is room to grow. Discussions on this topic have generated a lot of passion and some hurt and pain. Some members of our Black community have spoken out about their desire to see change and their experience of racism and support this policy order. Other members of this community feel unheard and left out of discussions and disrespected. Our police commissioner spoke passionately about his perception that his expertise and experience were devalued by not being included in the formation of this policy order. All of these feelings must be acknowledged and the situation de-escalated so we all can work together effectively.

I am dedicated to work in my position as an elected official and as a white person to fight for racial justice in all my work. Right now, that means asking the City Manager to reallocate a meaningful amount of the police department budget to services that will better serve the community in Cambridge. 

The summary for me is that this historic moment has thrust upon us the question: Are we doing enough to dismantle the systems of racism that have led to many of the structures in place today, including ones here in Cambridge? And given that well-meaning and trained police departments still make missteps, and evaluating the impact of anti-bias training and shifting a culture is extremely complex, I hope all of us would agree we can do more and we can do better. 

Some point out it is late in our budget process to discuss this proposal. Yes it is late. But have we heard this immediate call to action? Yes! We must not let this historic moment pass without deep dialogue about Cambridge’s role in addressing longstanding systemic issues.  

I was amazed and inspired by the number of people who wrote in to the council (over 3,500) and signed up to speak during public comment (nearly 400) on a policy order asking the City Manager to redirect some funding from the police department to other social services. While the vote was delayed from Monday to Wednesday (because public comment went for so long) and then subsequently charter righted (which means the vote is pushed back a week), the City Manager has already updated the council with some exciting news: The city has identified, and will be holding off on spending, as much as $2.5 million in the Police department budget so it can fill positions put on hold due to COVID’s effect on the budget. These positions include a Director of Equity and Culture, housing case managers, social workers, and early childhood education positions, who could be hired as soon as July. It is clear that the movement we are witnessing, both on the national and local levels, is already having a dramatic impact.

With hope,

Patty Nolan

Background:  The reason I supported this policy order once I reviewed it, is that I believe it’s important and eminently feasible without compromising the police department’s ability to continue its social justice work. The total department budget proposal is $4.1 million higher for FY2021 than the projected FY2020. Presumably most of that amount is due to contractually obligated increases in compensation. However, there are currently 25 vacant positions, plus 18 school crossing guard vacant positions. Those positions total $3.9 million. I believe we should fill positions like the school crossing guards, two vacancies in the Family and Social Justice section, the informatics position that will launch a groundbreaking dashboard on racial breakdown of police actions. However, patrol officer vacant positions alone total $1.9 million. Some of those are to hire our cadets – diverse young people that we need in our force. However, not all are. And we should determine if we need the two lieutenant positions at $228K each. Plus there is an expected $3.3 million in overtime. Based on my analysis, it appears that without layoffs or disruption we can find within the department funds to reallocate several million dollars — a minimum of $2 million and perhaps as much $4.1 million. At a minimum, we can fully cover the social worker for the central square library, the housing liaison, and several other positions that would work to complement the police department work by OFFLOADING the social services we have placed on our officers unfairly.

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