SAN ANTONIO – After months of activists and demonstrators calling for local governments to “defund the police,” the City of San Antonio’s first draft of a FY 2021 budget goes the other way, and police reform activists are having none of it.
City of San Antonio staff presented a $2.9 billion budget proposal to city council members on Thursday. Though it included various spending cuts to offset expected revenue shortfalls because of the pandemic, the San Antonio Police Department’s general fund budget would increase by $8.1 million under the proposal.
“I can’t help but feel as though this proposed budget is a slap in the face,” Celeste Brown told council members during the public comment portion of the meeting. “I am strongly urging city council to push back. This is not OK.”
Brown and several others signed up to speak during the meeting, and hundreds more submitted online comments. The majority voiced opposition to a budget increase for police, urging instead for city leaders to divert the money to areas like health care, housing, and education.
The budget proposal does include cuts to police overtime and would switch the Crisis Response Team over to the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District. However, such cuts were outweighed by a scheduled, a 5% pay increase for officers and state-mandated increases for retirement health care would put the department’s general fund budget at $487.2 million.
The police budget adopted for FY2020 was $479.1 million.
“You say that you heard our call to defend the police. And yet, instead you’ve done the opposite and expanded their budget another year while you have thrown us breadcrumbs at expanding existing programs,” said Leah Wilson.
Rather than recommending big cuts to SAPD in the upcoming budget year, which begins Oct.1, City Manager Erik Walsh has proposed a process to look at the police department's functions and consider possible alternatives. Walsh told reporters he wanted to provide council members with "a deliberate approach that benefits everyone."
However, he estimates that project would take until April, which would leave any resulting “defunding” to happen in future budgets.
Speakers did not support that approach, though.
“You don’t need to teach us about the police department that’s murdering and harassing our citizens,” said Evette Falcon. “What we need you to do is deep in our police department and invest in our communities.”
Mayor Ron Nirenberg, however, appeared to support Walsh’s plan, saying real change would require time and a strategic approach.
“If I hear the frustration of the people who are talking about public health, or talking about race equity, or they’re talking about police reform - they’re tired of lip service, and we have to acknowledge that,” Nirenberg said. “And I think it would be a disservice to the change that they’re seeking, to do it willy-nilly and just try to check a box.”
Walsh released an additional statement Thursday evening:
“Calls for police reform have brought a sharper focus to how equity and justice is reflected in our institutions, our values and our spending. I am proposing a deliberate process to set the future of police services. I am recommending that we take a strategic approach to deal with organizational and foundational issues, set expectations for the role of police, receive community input from all and set a path forward.
Nearly all of the increase in the FY 2021 SAPD budget is contractually-obligated or state law-required. We’ve made reductions in areas that we control, and we’ve made investments in the areas that the community has asked for: healthcare, housing and education.”
A city spokesman said out of the department’s proposed budget, about $103 million are not tied to the police union contract. That money pays for items like the 911 communications center, the department’s medical examiner contract, facility maintenance, and the public records division.
Council members are expected to approve a final budget in September. They will have several budget work sessions on specific areas between Aug. 12 and Sep. 1.
The police budget will be considered during the first Aug. 12 meeting.
The city says residents can submit budget questions in advance by calling 311, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, using #SASpeakUp on social media, or by texting their question and “SASpeakUp1” to 55000.
Virtual town halls by council district:
- Monday, Aug. 24 - 5 p.m.
- Monday, Aug. 17 - 7 p.m.
- Wednesday, Aug. 19 -7 p.m.
- (En Español) Tuesday, Aug. 25 - 5:30 p.m.
- Friday, Aug. 28 - 5 p.m.
- Thursday, Aug. 20 - 5 p.m.
- Monday, Aug. 24 - 7 p.m.
- Monday, Aug. 17 - 5 p.m
- Friday, Aug. 28 - 7 p.m.
- Tuesday, Aug. 18 - 7 p.m.
The city will also hold Community Drive-In Movie Night and Budget Town Hall on Thursday, Aug. 27 - 7 p.m.