City Council Passes Mayor Warren’s 2020-2021 Budget 8-1
By Jason Taylor
(WXIR-Rochester) Rochester City Council voted to approve Mayor Lovely Warren’s 2020-2021 budget this week. The budget passed 8-1, with the only dissenting vote coming from council member Mary Lupien.
Heeding the calls of local Black Lives Matter organizers, Lupien urged the RPD’s budget to be cut in half and reinvested in other community services.
“A city’s priorities are reflected in the budget, and removing SROs [School Resource Officers] and a 4% cut for RPD is a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough,” Lupien said. “Our police budget is $95 million, and adding in their pensions we spend more on the police than we do on our school, libraries, and youth services combined. This budget does not reflect a firm and bold commitment to reimagine and transform public safety.”
Mayor Warren responded by defending the RPD. She read the names of fourteen local homicide victims and said the RPD’s use of body-worn cameras, ban on chokeholds, and mandatory reporting of uses of force put the RPD ahead of other police departments.
She also excoriated Lupien’s framing of the budget.
“One thing our city doesn’t need is any member of this council failing to speak the truth," Mayor Warren said. "Particularly anyone stating that the city funds the police more than anything else. Simply put, it is false. And you should have known that it was false when you said it. That ignorance should be disqualifying.”
Lupien has since clarified that city spending on the RPD is larger than spending on education and youth services when police benefits and pensions are taken into account.
The RPD is also the single largest city department, comprising 18% of the city’s total budget. Over the last 20 years, city spending on the RPD has grown by 80% even as spending overall has increased by only 56%. By contrast, spending on the Library and Recreation and Youth Services Departments, as well as the Rochester City School District, has largely remained flat.
While defending the RPD Mayor Warren also called out Rochester’s large nonprofit sector to challenge systemic racism. “In our community the non-for-profit sector is a $1 billion industry. If you have an issue in Rochester we have a program that is allegedly supposed to fix it. She continued “this $1 billion industry is failing our community. These organizations need to reflect our community and their leadership needs to be as diverse as those they serve.”
Although Lupien was the only council member to vote ‘no’ on the budget other council members have supported cutting the RPD. Council member Mitch Gruber pledged change, albeit incrementally. “What we are doing tonight is the beginning and not the end of redirecting funding from policing to community-oriented programming.”
He cited the amendments City Council made to the budget pertaining to the RPD. These include reallocating $130,000 from police overtime to the Department of Recreation and Youth Services, reducing the size of the incoming Rochester Police Class, and creating a new task force to reimagine policing in Rochester.
During the meeting Police Chief La’Ron Singletary said any cuts to the RPD would be dangerous to the community by making police response times longer.
Calls for police reform have continued across the country, sparked by the killing of George Floyd. While police reform is a major focus, many agree it is part of a larger issue, and that systemic racism touches virtually every department and institution in our society.