A surprisingly controversial proposal in Lenny Curry’s new budget: adding 100 new cops to the next fiscal year’s budget.
Mad caveats on that number, though; it’s more likely that 60 to 80 cops can be trained next year, and there of course will be attrition. But Curry has promised to restore force attrition since before he became mayor. And, bolstered by restructuring pension debt, he’s able to do it.
Curry, ironically, is not facing the most pressure on this. The most political pressure right now is borne by African-American Democrats from Districts 7 through 10. They are the majority on the finance committee, and definitely need the endorsement of the public safety unions. However, advocating for the proposal has proved to be tough sledding for them, as activist groups have pushed back.
We’ve seen it in council chambers in recent weeks—a fortnight ago, and last week in finance committee, when youthful progressives stepped to the mic and asked the councilors, in so many words, if they understood why a significant subset of the local population believes that “more cops on the street” equals “more police brutality” or “more deaths by cop.”
The aforementioned councilors hewed to the mayor’s talking points. Then, at a town hall discussing The Rev. Darien Bolden’s recent traffic stop for overly tinted windows which ended up with a cop pulling a gun on him, they had to break off.
Councilors Reggie Gaffney, Katrina Brown and Garrett Dennis committed to support “diversity training” for officers, and vowed to hold Sheriff Mike Williams accountable when the JSO budget comes up for discussion this Thursday. Also floated: the possibility of moving some money earmarked for reserves to projects in the community (a proposal that will not go over with the mayor’s office, which recognizes the need for reserves).
Not too long ago, there was a push for a citizens’ review board. That was also brought up at the town hall.
Councilmembers Brown (both Katrina and Reggie) were informed that council has no mechanism to impose such a thing, in part because the sheriff is constitutionally elected, in part because such a body would therefore lack subpoena power, and in part because the police union would roll any pol who pushed too hard for a CRB.
While the inability to get a CRB through was a real setback, it doesn’t mean that other things can’t be changed on the legislative level locally to—perhaps—improve relationships between the community and local law enforcement.
City council is uniquely suited to change the way law enforcement relates to those who exist only as subjects of government, who don’t know the game, who believe—perhaps with reason—that they’ve spent their entire lives being jobbed by one agent of the state apparatus or another, so it’s inevitable they’ll be stopped, frisked, searched and questioned.
I don’t generally worry about this stuff. I’m an old white dude, a professional bullshit artist, and the world is made for folks like me (except inasmuch as there is one vowel too many in my last name). But the people who do complain? They have reason to worry. They’ve seen government’s backhand.
For many of them, mass incarceration isn’t an academic trope to bemoan on Twitter; it’s the thing that wrecks families, that leaves kids to be raised by overworked grandmas. They are the ultimate fuel in the economy of the carceral state, one that rewards stockholders in such companies as CoreCivic and the GEO Group, and more provisionally rewards those hicks in the sticks who work in the prisons until something goes wrong—with them or with the gig—they’re then spat out and soon forgotten, in a pauper’s grave.
For some folks, prison is an investment opportunity, or a job. For the on-again, off-again inmates, it’s the curse that dooms generations.
So when they hear “100 more cops,” they hear “more aggressive policing” and “more chances to be rung up on some BS.” That’s true of both the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition types who highlighted city council discussions, and of the preachers who made similar points in a different context last week at that town hall in a Springfield church.
The question going forward for lawmakers, especially those Democrats representing districts that get the lion’s share of friction between cops and citizens: How can laws be changed to abate that tension? And how far will they go in that dialogue?
I talked to Sheriff Williams, who said that a force addition would help with community policing. Councilwoman Katrina Brown was more skeptical, saying more cops won’t “make citizens feel better,” but that increased “transparency” will.
The question, of course, is how to get there. Can council drive “transparency”? If so, how?