FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – There is a growing call by people across the country defund police departments. This comes after nationwide protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
There is some confusion when it comes to the idea of defunding police. In most cases people are asking for city leaders to redistribute money from the public safety budget in order to fund resources that would better serve the public.
“People are using strong language about defunding,” said Councilwoman Michelle Chambers. “I don’t think that’s the appropriate word to use. I think it should maybe be a reallocation of resources.”
In extreme cases, activists are calling for the police force to be disbanded and rebuilt.
Chambers, along with Mayor Tom Henry, said they do not support the idea of disbanding the police force. Instead, they would consider reallocating funds to social service organizations, for example.
“I am open to talking to the police chief and talking to others on the possibility of bringing civilians into the police department to provide additional services,” said Henry. “[Services] that reach beyond those of a police officer.”
Chambers is the chair of The Public Safety and Racial Justice Commission, which was created by Mayor Henry in response to local protests over the killing of George Floyd. The commission will look at ways to get more minorities on the police force, deescalation training, and pairing social workers with officers.
“How do we fund social workers specifically for the police department?” said Chambers. “How do we get that connection back to the community?”
Sgt. Sofia Rosales-Scatena, a spokesperson for the Fort Wayne Police Department, warns that taking funds from the public safety budget could have adverse effects. There is a fear that defunding could lead to layoffs.
“People want additional training, additional programming,” she said. “To do that we need people and we need money. We have about 460 officers to 260,000 people. That’s not a lot of officers per person.”
Roughly, $64.8 million dollars was budgeted for public safety this year. The majority of that money goes to wages and benefits. However, there is a long list of line items in the public safety budget to be considered, said Rosales-Scatena. That includes maintenance for buildings, vehicles, and equipment, she said.
All Fort Wayne Police Officers receive deescalation training, according to Rosales-Scatena. Still, Chambers believes it could benefit the department to pair officers with social workers. However, officers are concerned this could be dangerous.
“You bring a third party into situation now you’ve not only got to worry about that suspect now you have to deal with the safety of the social worker as well,” Rosales-Scatena said. “I think in reality it just doesn’t pan out the way people think it does. It adds to the burden on the officer to make sure everyone is safe.”
FWPD does have a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), which is comprised of officers who are trained to deal with people who are experiencing a mental health crisis. Just last year the department launched the Hope and Recovery Team (HART). It is a partnership with the Lutheran Foundation to help people with drug addictions.
“We have a lot of 501c3s that are out there helping people,” said Rosales-Scatena. “If we could come together with those and maybe find a better way to communicate among ourselves and find resources for people, that would help us.”
Rosales-Scatena said the CIT and HART programs have led to a drastic reduction of injuries when police respond to those emergency calls.
“I appreciate our chief I appreciate his leadership but there may be an opportunity to learn and adjust to where we are now,” said Chambers.
The police department began testing out body cams last year, which is something Chambers said she would like to see all officers wearing. Chambers also is interested in creating citizen review board that would work with the public safety board.
“We are looking at legislation for body cams we are looking at legislation for a city review board,” said Chambers. “I know that a public service board exists right now, but how do we combine those efforts to have a city review board as well as a public service board? We have to have checks and balances. It doesn’t take away from our police force. If anything it enhances our police force.”