After a wave of Black Lives Matter protests and calls for racial equity last summer, many municipalities in North Carolina debated lowering their police budgets. Now, a recently proposed bill in the N.C. Senate would penalize them for doing so.
N.C. Senate Bill 100, also known as the Police Funding Protection Act, was created in direct response to community efforts to defund the police. The bill states any North Carolina city that reduces funds for law enforcement agencies by more than one percent of the city's annual budget will receive an equivalent reduction in state funding.
Read the full bill.
The Police Funding Protection Act, filed on Feb. 15 by three Republican sponsors, comes at a time where some municipalities are looking to reduce or restructure their law enforcement agencies for racial equity purposes or due to pandemic-influenced budget cuts.
Local municipalities create public safety task forces
In June 2020, the Chapel Hill Town Council adopted a Resolution on Developing New Community Approaches to Improve Racial Equity and Public Safety in Chapel Hill.
Under this resolution, a Re-Imagining Community Task Force was created to bring recommendations to the town council that will increase public safety and eliminate structural inequities in the Town’s public safety systems.
Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said she does not see the bill as an immediate threat to the work that this task force plans to do, but that the Town never likes to lose local control to the state.
“They always use this punishment approach, 'if you don't do what we say we're gonna take the other money away from you'," Hemminger said. "That's not a way to govern.”
If the bill is passed, Hemminger said Chapel Hill will find a way to work around it. She said there are other ways to combat racial inequities other than cutting back on the Town's law enforcement.
For example, Hemminger brought up Chapel Hill’s Crisis Unit: the Town's 24-hour co-response team that provides onsite emergency response to people in crisis situations. She said that instead of sending an officer in uniform, the Crisis Unit has altered its emergency response so that someone without a uniform can be first on the scene.
“It’s not all about defunding the police,” Hemminger said. “It’s more about proper equity training.”
Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle said Carrboro also has no immediate plans for increasing or decreasing funding of the police department.
“I’m not in favor of just automatically saying let's defund the police," Lavelle said. "It’s more of how do we reallocate or how do we enhance our police department in terms of public safety."
But she said it's important to consider that racial equity is not the only thing motivating other municipalities to make changes in their funding – there's also the financial burden of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In some communities, every department is having to cut back a little because of the reality of the on-the-ground effect of the pandemic on local service,” Lavelle said.
The Carrboro Town Council also adopted a Resolution on Next Steps in Advancing Racial Equity in Law Enforcement and Public Safety in Carrboro this past June.
This resolution gives the council permission to develop a charge for a task force on public safety. According to the resolution, this task force will be formed to find new approaches to public safety beyond policing and to invest in an “economy of care.”
Carrboro Town Mayor Pro Tem Barbara Foushee said the council is working to develop the task force. She said once created, the task force will make recommendations to the Council for discussion and approval.
Other groups weigh in
Randy Byrd, division president of N.C. Police Benevolent Association, said in a statement the bill is necessary to prevent elected officials from making decisions that hurt police agencies.
"When you don't support these officers and their agencies, it can lead to officers leaving in unprecedented numbers and violent crime increasing," Byrd said. "This is not a situation that any community wants to see themselves in."
But the bill has received pushback from the N.C.ACLU, an organization that challenges racially biased law enforcement practices. The organization issued a statement opposing the bill on Feb. 16.
Executive Director Chantal Stevens said law enforcement, after slavery, has continued to uphold racist policies, kept Black Americans from voting and turned a blind eye to racial violence, and it is time to reimagine policing and see what a decreased presence looks like.
“It is reprehensible to punish local communities for shifting resources towards deeper, more meaningful investment in communities that address the racial disparities found in policing practices," Stevens said. "We should celebrate these efforts, not punish them.”
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