Tampa and Hillsborough County are both set to adopt new budgets this week. Both are also set to increase law enforcement spending as activists in the area call for some of that money to be diverted to social programs.
City and county governments are preparing to finalize their first budgets since widespread calls have gone out demanding a reduction in law enforcement spending.
Activists across the country have called for diverting funds to social programs like mental health and housing. But in Tampa Bay, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and Tampa Police Department are both likely to get increased budgets to the dismay of local activists, like Angel D’Angelo of the Restorative Justice Coalition.
“I’d say the Restorative Justice Coalition and the many people we work with are disappointed about these increases,” he said. “It’s an example of our elected leaders completely not listening to the people.”
The Sheriff’s Office’s budget is set to be approved Thursday at nearly $480 million. That’s about $16.5 million more than the previous year. Meanwhile, in Tampa, council members are will vote Wednesday to approve a police budget at close to $176 million, an almost $13 million increase.
Activists surveyed the Tampa community and said most respondents identified areas like affordable housing, mental health response, child care, job creation and general health care as options for increased funding.
A number of community organizations have called for the $13 million budget increase to support those programs instead. D’Angelo said supporting those initiatives will eventually reduce the need for more policing.
“We really look at things from a crisis prevention attitude instead of crisis intervention,” he said. “We should create a world where were it’s less likely that we ever have to call them (police) in the first place.”
In a news conference last month, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, who ran the city’s police department from 2009-2015, said the city would absolutely not be defunding the police.
“We will focus on investing, not divesting to increase training for police and all city departments,” Castor said.”
But D’Angelo said in communities like Eugene, Ore., where the non-profit CAHOOTS program works to dispatch social workers for nonviolent calls instead of police, a little investment can save big. According the U.S. News & World Report, CAHOOTS saves the city about $8.5 million in public safety costs every year and another $14 million in ambulance trips and emergency room costs.
Words like “defund” can mean social reform to some, but bring fear to others. D’Angelo said that’s all a part of enacting social change. The same, he said, was true for other movements like women’s suffrage, civil rights and gay rights, all of which effected positive change in the world.
“Once those things happen, the world didn’t fall apart,” he said. “The same true for this movement.”
Tampa activists plan to protest the police department’s budget at 6 Tuesday evening at 702 S Albany Ave. ahead of Wednesday’s council vote.
Hillsborough County will accept call-in public comments during its Thursday vote to approve the budget.
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