Mayor Jim Kenney avoided taking a side in the political battle over law enforcement funding on Thursday when he said he’s proposing flat funding for the Police Department in the coming year.
But his proposal does include new investments for police. Some fund reforms. Others are tucked into budgets for different departments.
In addition to the $727 million police allocation that’s roughly equivalent to last year’s, the administration proposed funneling additional money for police-related reforms and programs through the Managing Director’s Office. And it set aside funding for expected raises as a result of upcoming contract negotiations with municipal unions, including the police.
Of the cash that would run through the Managing Director’s Office, about $6 million would fund a citywide program that pairs behavioral health specialists with officers responding to mental health-related 911 calls. An additional $750,000 in spending for that office would expand training for police “to make positive decisions when put in difficult situations.”
The administration also proposed allocating $5.4 million in the Managing Director’s Office to enhance the police Office of Forensic Science and $400,000 in that office to launch an “early intervention” system that identifies potential problem employees in the Police Department. And it proposed $787,000 for the city Office of Innovation and Technology to expand the use of forensic data in crime investigations.
Budget director Marisa Waxman said budgetary items may be put under the Managing Director’s Office because they require a “cross-departmental approach.”
Proponents of defunding the police criticized the proposal, saying tax dollars going toward reforms still prop up a system they see as harmful.
“Mayor Jim Kenney is trying to pull the wool over our eyes,” said Kris Henderson, executive director of Amistad Law Project, a West Philadelphia public-interest law center that advocates ending mass incarceration. “Resources that end up in the hands of police are police funding.”
Councilmember Helen Gym, who along with other progressive members has pushed for rethinking policing, said she’s happy that Kenney proposed improving responses to mental health crises. But she said she’d still prefer to see “something bigger” to reimagine public safety.
“It’s got to be a longer-term strategy and not just based on flat funding,” she said. “We are trying to push for a real transformation of what policing looks like.”
The administration used a similar strategy last year after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked a racial justice movement and calls to “defund the police,” or divert money from law enforcement toward social services. In addition to canceling a $19 million increase to the police budget, Philadelphia moved $14 million for some personnel, like school crossing guards, to the Managing Director’s Office.
Kenney has said that he doesn’t support reducing the police force and that implementing reforms costs money. On Thursday, he did nod to the pro-defund wing of his party, saying during his budget address, “Across all the funds we administer, investments in the Department of Behavioral Health and intellectual disability services are more than $1.6 billion in Philadelphia — more than double the Police Department’s budget.”
But that $1.6 billion is not all city dollars — the majority is federal and state Medicaid funds the city administers. Law enforcement spending is the largest slice of the city budget besides pensions.
Administration officials have said when it comes to police, they can only change so much. Under state law, the police union contract is decided by an independent arbitrator who reviews proposals from the union and the city. That decision is binding.
Councilmember Isaiah Thomas, who supports reducing the police budget, said Thursday he understands the budget can’t easily be reduced because 96.8% of the $727 million proposed allocation goes to salaries. He said he’s focused on working with state lawmakers to give the city more control over contract negotiations.
“My personal opinion is we’re spending too much money there,” Thomas said. “A lot of us agree, but at the end of the day I also understand contractual obligations.”
Last year, when the city and the union agreed to a one-year contract extension amid the pandemic, members received a 2.5% raise. Kenney’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year sets aside a $25 million reserve to absorb higher labor costs anticipated for all seven municipal unions, including the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5.
The current FOP contract expires at the end of June. In draft proposals, Kenney’s administration has pursued reforms like limiting back pay for officers who are disciplined and requiring cops to live in the city.
Union president John McNesby declined to comment on contract negotiations. He said that while he’s glad the department’s budget isn’t being cut, he’s concerned that changes like residency requirements could hamper the already challenging task of recruiting officers.
McNesby did welcome the co-responder program that would pair behavioral-health specialists with officers, saying police “could always use the resources.”
Redesigning how the city responds to 911 calls for residents in crisis has been a key component of reforms proposed by anti-police brutality activists. That intensified in October after two officers fatally shot Walter Wallace Jr., a 27-year-old Black man who was experiencing a mental-health crisis in West Philadelphia. Wallace was wielding a knife and ignored commands to drop the weapon as he approached police.
But some aren’t satisfied with what the city is proposing. Abdul-Aliy Muhammad, a West Philadelphia-based racial justice activist, said they’d prefer the program operate entirely separate from law enforcement.
“Again they’re investing into the infrastructure of the police,” Muhammad said. “It’s not about ‘someone accompanying the police.’ It’s about ‘no police.’”
Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, who has advocated cutting the police budget, said she liked that the unit would be funded outside the Police Department, so it was not solely under control of the police.
But she said the budget could have gone further in rethinking the city’s approach to public safety.
“I wish they would have reduced the police budget to capture those changes, but overall we’re putting real money into getting people a more compassionate and better mental health response,” she said. “But it’s not the same as defunding the police. We should be clear about that.”
Staff writer Sean Collins Walsh contributed to this article.