RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- Some protesters in Virginia want to ‘defund the police’ but others argue that’s not the answer.
Demonstrators say these calls represent a cultural reckoning over where policing ranks in our priorities.
“They don’t need as big of a budget as they’ve had over the years,” said Jasmine Kelley, a volunteer with the Richmond Action Alliance. “We need to have a different narrative of hope and change.”
Edward Lee, another volunteer with the RAA, said ‘defunding police’ isn’t about getting rid of law enforcement altogether.
“In your tool box, if you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. We want to provide more tools for the public to be able to use,” Lee said.
The idea to review police budgets with the goal of shifting resources to social services, mental heath and education has gotten the endorsement of Richmond City Councilor Mike Jones.
“We have to put black lives over budgets,” Jones told 8News earlier this week.
Gov. Ralph Northam’s office didn’t directly say whether or not he supports defunding the police. In a statement on Wednesday, a spokesperson for Northam said he opposes calls by some protesters to take things a step further by ‘disbanding’ police.
Governor Northam believes in police reform. The system is broken and needs to be fixed – around the country and in Virginia – but he does not support disbanding the police. It’s clear America needs to do better, and he is committed to ongoing reform here in Virginia.
The Governor will also continue to support funding for social services, healthcare, education, and community-based violence prevention. These have been top priorities of his administration from the beginning, and we must continue to make these critical investments.Gov. Ralph Northam
At a recent news conference about police reform, Newport News Mayor McKinley Price encouraged the community to support the positive steps officers are taking.
“I do not support disbanding the police. I do support working together,” Price said.
House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert said ‘disbanding’ and ‘defunding’ are both the wrong way to go.
“We will be less safe. Social workers are not going to come to your house and save you from a burglar, a racist, or a murderer,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert also raised concerns about how cutting budgets could impact officer pay, potentially hindering the recruitment and retainment of quality employees.
“In terms of increasing the quality of the whole–of the applicant pool and of the people serving in those roles–you’re certainly not going to do it by paying them the bare minimum,” Gilbert said.
In a policy document released Tuesday outlining reforms supported by the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, the organization also referenced budget restraints as a barrier to change.
The document said, in part:
Despite efforts to hire diverse police forces, it remains difficult to attract women and minorities into the law enforcement profession. Many starting salaries in Virginia are well below $40k and do not include provisions for increased pay for experience/performance. Some people collecting unemployment are making more than our officers. Deputies in some areas of the state reportedly have relied on food stamps and second jobs to make ends meet.Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police
Ashland Police Chief Doug Goodwin, former president of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, said additional funding is needed to ensure all officers get advanced crisis intervention training. He said this would improve law enforcement response to people with mental illness.
“When you’re talking about increasing training especially, that has a price tag,” Goodwin said.
Goodwin said many departments are already facing budget cuts as localities struggle with revenue losses from the coronavirus.
“There really isn’t a whole lot of fluff in [the budget],”Goodwin said. “Every dollar is associated with some service that we offer our community and without it there would be gaps.”
In light of nationwide protests, some major U.S. cities like New York and Los Angeles have already committed to ‘defund the police’ in some capacity.
New York and California are among the states that spend the most on policing, according to data compiled by the Tax Policy Center. Virginia landed in the middle of the pack, ranking 30th when state spending levels were ordered highest to lowest.