Reimagining Public Safety Task Force proposals
City Council meeting agenda on June 1 contained item J3, brought forward by City Manager Laura Snideman’s office. While city staff was tasked by Council on May 10, 2021 to integrate the approved Reimagining Public Safety Community Task Force proposals into this year’s City budget, the staff report for tonight’s item indicates that the City Manager has chosen to go beyond the purview of her authority. At stake are not only the vital issues of police accountability and racial justice, but also the democratically-bestowed mandate of our progressive City Council members. RPA members are thus strongly encouraged to make public comments during meetings on the matter.
Item J3 essentially behaves as a counter-offer to the task force recommendations. Among its most worrying modifications is to only fund the Homelessness and Unhoused Intervention component by $1 million, a 70% decrease from the original plan’s $3.4 million. Moreover, 500k of this particular bucket would go to the Richmond Rapid Response Fund, which provides rental assistance to individuals and households at risk of losing their housing as eviction moratoriums expire. While housing stability is undoubtedly essential to our community’s well-being and ultimately prevents homelessness, the 50% allocation of these monies to that particular program completely redirects the targeted public safety policy proposals that have been studied and then meticulously drafted by the Task Force.
This aspect of the Task Force recommendations, after all, directly addresses the ways in which homelessness is criminalized, the violence and neglect our unhoused community regularly faces, and that our police department is not equipped to assist this demographic of our city. It is worth noting, too, that the grant amount of approximately $500k available for the Safe Parking Program was derided as woefully inadequate by numerous community stakeholders. To then advise that the same dollar amount be spread among such vital programs to community health and safety as Shower Power and the Streets Team indicates a deep disinterest in the success of the Task Force.
Other worrisome changes in item J3 include the suggestion that the police budget only be cut by $2.3 million (versus the initially recommended $10.3 million reallocation), with the rest of the proposal being largely funded by over 20% of this year’s American Rescue Plan Act stimulus allocation to Richmond. Given that the City desperately needs this money for its economic recovery from COVID (and that the work of RPA members suggests Richmond is already getting far less from ARPA than it should), residents should resist hasty efforts to dip into these precious funds without careful consideration. If ARPA funds are ultimately used for the partial funding of these policies, supporters should be aware that these one-time funds will not create a sustainable financial infrastructure for Reimagining Public Safety beyond 2023 (which may very well be the intention).
Two other sections worth noting are, on one hand, the ambivalent commitment to the Community Crisis Response initiative (created to address mental health crises without police interference) and, on the other, the intentionally inflammatory laundry list of jobs the police say they will no longer perform, should these proposals be implemented. Again, given that the task of the City Manager’s office was to study and then present exactly how these already-approved policies will be implemented into the fiscal budget, such renegotiations and multiple pages of supposed community impacts are an affront to the stated purpose of that City office.
In October 2020, the previous City Council created the 21-member Reimagining Public Safety Community Task Force. Established as a response to the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor last summer, as well as the subsequent BLM protests in Richmond, the Task Force boasts a wide swath of community stakeholders, such as the RYSE Center, the RPA, Richmond Revolution, Reimagine Richmond, RPD, and unaffiliated community members. Participants took part in four official subgroups within the task force: Accountability as Safety, Community Based Solutions, Health and Safety, Smart Budgeting and Resource Allocation. Following the May 10th approval of these recommendations by City Council, an implementation sub-committee was also established to ensure the success of the Task Force’s work.
On May 20, 2021, the RPA Steering Committee voted to formally endorse the proposals recently put forward by the Reimagining Public Safety Community Task Force. As an organization, the Richmond Progressive Alliance has now explicitly committed itself to supporting this ambitious and trailblazing suite of public safety policies. This support, just now formalized, has nonetheless existed among RPA membership since the Task Force’s inception. Individual members have lent their time and input to the Task Force itself, as well as outreach to the larger community via the RPA Comms team. Nonetheless, our work as a progressive organization has only just begun, and it is incumbent upon us to support the bold, transformative work that our community allies have done for Richmond.