Salem City Council Chambers. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)
Hundreds of comments have poured into Salem city councilor’s inboxes ahead of Monday’s city council meeting where it will vote on the 2020-21 budget, including the Salem Police Department.
All told, more than 290 people wrote to council opposing any change to the police budget. More than 195 wrote to request the council reallocate money away from the $48.9 million earmarked for the department.
At the council’s June 8 meeting, councilors Chris Hoy, Cara Kaser and Tom Andersen issued a joint statement calling for systematic review of police policies and training. Their call came after a video surfaced of a Salem police officer telling a group of armed individuals outside a Glamour Salon, a downtown salon and source of controversy, they needed to move along so it didn’t look like police were playing favorites while protests against police brutality were happening blocks away.
The protests have galvanized activists in Salem and across the country into calling for the de-militarization of police and a reallocation of police funding to social service programs.
Councilors made no mention of adjusting the budget at the June 8 meeting and didn’t acknowledge nearly 30 letters of public comment demanding to shift part of the police budget to community and social programs.
But on Monday night, Councilor Tom Andersen will make a motion to create a work session about the use of city funds for non-criminal matters handled by the police department, like mental health services.
Some council members have called for a CAHOOTS-style mental health crisis response to be developed in Salem. The Eugene program sends social workers to respond to 9-1-1 calls involving mental health issues. The city allocated $798,000 of Eugene Police Department funding in fiscal year 2017-18 for CAHOOTS.
Local nonprofits have discussed the idea of a similar model, but questions remain over funding. Salem city councilors, so far, haven’t made any formal efforts to divert any police funding for such a program.
But members of the public are calling for it. Others are horrified by the idea.
Below is a sample of comments submitted to council:
“Rather than defund, we should actually increase funding for them. Crime is bad in Salem, and they do their very best. The controlled the riots very well, and I can only imagine how awful it would have been without SPD. Please, don't consider defending. Portland is in a terrible situation, largely due to anti-police. We need NOT be like Portland. If we start going that way, lots of business owners and residents will look at moving out, destroying the economy. This decision will have a very devastating and detrimental lasting effect in the future for the city.”
Cody Carr, business owner and Salem resident
“While I'm not in favor of defunding Salem's police department, I am certainly in favor of realigning funds to match community needs. The same officer that responds ready at a vicious homicide does not likely need to be the same as someone who is trying to engage with a houseless neighbor. An officer carrying a gun likely isn't the right person to respond to a child that's experienced neglect and abuse. We need to set our community and our officers up for success. Being a ‘"jack of all trades’" makes an officers job far more difficult than it may need to be.”
Nick Williams, Ward 8 resident
“Our police department has received more than its fair share of the pie: we are erecting a giant new station in their honor while we suffer from a crisis of homelessness not seen in Salem in decades. It is time to reinvest our police funding – at least in part –into education and social services. We need more shelters with comprehensive wraparound services. We need mental health services. These things will support our community in far more impactful ways than law enforcement is able to.
I am certain that if you are reading this you have seen the video of our officers ‘“not playing favorites’” with armed white citizens while aiming tear gas at unarmed protesters. Our police chief’s apology was an empty one, one that communicated ‘“I’m sorry you feel that way’” rather than addressing the very real power dynamics and racism existing within our law enforcement both locally and nationally.”
Jordan Pargeter, Salem resident
“I am writing to urge you to review the upcoming city budget to reflect the undeniable will of the thousands of residents of Salem who showed up to protest police brutality and stand up for the people of color in our community and across the US. I urge the council to cut funding to the Salem Police Department and redirect those funds towards our schools, social workers, and homeless outreach programs. With the Covid-19 crisis our schools are hurting and as a parent with children in our school district I'd much rather have that money spent on teachers who do far more for our community than cops who teargas peaceful citizens and collaborate with armed white supremacists.
I also would love to see the money we spend on policing homeless be used to house them instead. Finally, please propose a motion to remove the police presence in our schools. We need counselors, not cops. If it is not possible to re-allocate these funds before the council votes on the budget at the next city council meeting, then I believe that decision needs to be postponed to give adequate time for public comment since we are not able to show up in person right now.”
Anna Davis, Ward 2 resident and downtown business owner
“DO NOT DEFUND THE PD. I have a stalking order. I do not want to die. I am a taxpayer in Marion county, a contributing member of society, and a professional, educated person. Our police department, by and large, deals with extremely challenging, multi-cultural situations with grace. They work to protect the people in our county, putting themselves at risk. The idea of defunding them is wholly unacceptable and disgraceful!!! How can any of you even entertain the idea?! You should be ashamed!!!”
Kimra Tollefson, Stayton resident
“One of the main reasons everyone seems to be interested in ‘"Defunding the Police’" seems to be that the police feel that they are sent on so many different types of calls that there's no way they could ever be properly trained for them. Do you think that this is a problem for the Salem police? Do you think your police force would benefit from alternative responders to the homeless, to domestic violence, to schools? We especially could utilize a specialized task force for dealing with homelessness here in Salem. Very few of the homeless are happy to see a Police Officer coming toward them, I would imagine. Would the Salem Police be able to better manage the precinct? Would they be able to hire fewer, but better-fit employees? Would they be able to solve more cases by being able to focus on fewer things? My question to you is, why would you be opposed to ‘"reformatting’" the current Policing formula in Salem if there are all these potential benefits?”
Daniel Kelley, Salem resident
“I have never been one to love the police, I don't think a lot of people would, but earlier this year we had an incident where a drugged out individual ran onto our property and didn't leave. He just stayed in our yard and was waving around a home-made weapon. I was so scared! We called the police out and they were able to safely remove him. In that situation I was so grateful for the police. Who knows how that would have gone without them. Please please please don’t defund the Police.”
Anfisa Basargin, Keizer resident
“While what happened in Minneapolis was a terrible, preventable trajedy, the officers involved are now being held accountable for their crimes. What we need now is support for our fine officers and support for our community. We need cooler heads to prevail and to remember not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I believe that defunding the Salem Police Department would only create new problems for many citizens while solving none.”
Dale Young, west Salem resident
“What if we re-envision a police department responsible for serving but a small part of the city’s needs because we elect to invest our money instead in addressing actual problems: access to affordable housing, education, mental health, food instability. The first step is to reach out to those who have already submitted comments and use those voices to guide the discussion and prepare to change the proposed budget.”
Deborah Vaughn, Ward 3 resident
This story was updated to reflect the number of public comments received Monday, June 22.
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