There's a push in Norman to, again, cut the city's police budget after a nearly $900,000 cut last year prompted outrage from some in the community.
Councilwoman Brandi Studley asked city staff to draft an amendment to next year's budget cutting $500,000 from the police budget. A police spokeswoman said that could force the department to eliminate five officer positions.
“Instead, we take that money and put it towards a mobile crisis response team,” Studley said during a nearly 4-hour budget discussion Tuesday.
Studley wants unspent funds from last year’s police budget cut to be paired with this year’s cut funding the non-police mental health crisis response department like the CAHOOTS program in Portland, Oregon.
Norman Police Spokeswoman Sarah Jensen said other cities with similar crisis response teams saw an increased demand for officers assisting the mental health team. She said state law requires only police or a judge to commit a person for treatment.
“Either way, whether it’s (cutting) positions or the services materials, trainings and supplies, we do know that a reduction of this amount would induce slower response times, reduce proactive policing efforts, and the reduction in investigative capabilities,” Jensen said.
Studley was the only councilperson to speak in support of the reduction Tuesday.
Mayor Breea Clark told News 9 she's looking forward to hearing discussion at next Tuesday's meeting final budget meeting, but without a clear picture of just how much a crisis response team would cost or even look like, she said federal COVID-19 relief funds may be a better way to fund the pilot program.
Norman is slated to receive more than $22 million from the American Rescue Plan, which does allow spending for crisis intervention among other mental health services.
“(Policing is) the number one budgeted item in our entire city’s budget and we really have a community that’s reaching out asking for these other services, and I think we owe it to them to at least start this,” Studley said.
Last year’s cut resulted in eliminating nine positions. While this year’s proposal did not include any staff increases, it did include a nearly $800,000 increase.
“The increase covers e increase cost and worker’s compensation, and adjustments to the salary schedule for merit increases, and pension and health care cost,” City Manager Darrel Pyle said during Tuesday’s meeting.
“Okay, well I would still like to propose that we have $500,000 taken from the police budget this year,” Studley said.
Jensen said taking into long-term leave, the department is down to 75 patrol officers.
“We really need a minimum of 90 officers to achieve those staffing levels, and currently we are already 15 below where we are to achieve those minimum staffing levels,” she said.
The city council is set to meet next Tuesday.