North Central News

City budget adds funds for police, oversight

By Colleen Sparks
More money for raises and additional police officers amid tensions between the public and law enforcement around the country are some of the ways the city of Phoenix will boost funding in its fiscal year 2020-21 budget.

The Phoenix City Council at a meeting last month approved its operating budget for the new fiscal year, which starts July 1, in a 6-3 vote. Many members of the public urged the City Council not to approve additional funding for the Phoenix Police Department, criticizing police officers’ interactions with the public. Some rallied outside of City Hall, one of the recent protests around the country against police officers after the death of George Floyd, a man who died after former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin’s knee was pressed on his neck for several minutes in May.

The City Council approved a budget of $744 million for the police department for the 2020-21 fiscal year, which will end June 30, 2021, an increase from $719 million approved for the police department in the last fiscal year. The city’s goal is to have 3,125 active sworn police officers on staff, said Amber Williamson, deputy Budget and Research director for the city of Phoenix. There were 3,042 sworn police officers in the department as of May. It is unknown when and how many officers will be hired this fiscal year. The funding increase also will pay for technology and staff members’ work related to police officers’ use of body-worn cameras.

The City Council also previously approved spending $3 million for the newly created Office of Accountability and Transparency (OAT), which will aim to “strengthen public safety in the city of Phoenix and increase accountability and transparency” between the police department and the residents it serves, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said. This department is separate from the police department. It will support a civilian review board that will provide more oversight of the Phoenix Police Department.

Funding for the OAT is possible because of significant savings related to COVID-19, including closed city-run centers and decreased jail costs, Gallego said.

Originally the proposed budget for the OAT was $400,000, but after a push from advocates to increase the money, the City Council boosted the amount to $3 million.

“The City Council wanted to send a signal to our community that we understand we have to work to strengthen the relationship between the community and police officers, help support our city as we understand what are the best practices in policing,” Gallego said days prior to the City Council meeting where the budget was approved. “We are having a national discussion.”

The total budget the City Council approved for this 2020-21 fiscal year was $5,020,460,241. That is about a 10-percent increase over the 2019-20 fiscal year’s total budget. It includes raises for all city employees. The total increase in compensation, which includes salaries and benefits, is 1.5 percent but every unit negotiated it differently, so different employees will see different percentage raises, Williamson said.

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