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Durham City Council says no to more police

What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: Durham City Council says no to more police

  • LA prosecutor touts her mental health reforms, but critics say she’s making the crisis worse

  • The Appeal Podcast: American cities’ growing reliance on surveillance

  • Powerful Virginia prosecutors face challenges in tomorrow’s primaries

  • Minneapolis police officer sentenced to 12 and a half years for 2017 killing

  • First case of methadone treatment in federal prison

  • Philadelphia neighborhood’s residents support a safe-injection facility

In the Spotlight

Durham City Council says no to more police

Last week, in a 4-3 vote on the 2019-20 budget, the City Council in Durham, North Carolina, voted against funding 18 new police officers. It voted instead to raise the wage for part-time city workers to just over $15 an hour. With that, the city joined jurisdictions around the country that are critically evaluating requests for increased funding for law enforcement and finding that they cannot be justified—both on grounds of community safety and in the dollars they take away from other vital expenditures.

In St. Paul, Minnesota, last year, Mayor Melvin Carter rejected a request for 50 new police officers. In a statement explaining his decision, he wrote: “The philosophy that more police officers, tougher prosecutors and bigger jails equal a safer city has failed. Our driving goal shouldn’t be to hire as many officers as possible but to reduce the number of times we have to call police in the first place. The City currently spends three times more on police and fire services than on recreation centers and libraries. As long as we focus more on responding to emergencies than on preventing them in the first place, we’ll never have enough police officers.”

In February, commissioners in Harris County, Texas, voted against funding 102 new prosecutors, as requested by District Attorney Kim Ogg. (Keri Blakinger reports for The Appeal and the Houston Chronicle today that Ogg’s office may have also misstated caseloads in her office when making the case for additional funding.)

The original request in Durham, from the police chief, had been for 72 additional police officers, which would have cost the city close to $2 million a year. That request was eventually revised to 18 officers at a cost of $1.2 million.  But in a city where crime has been on a downward trajectory for many years, the police department’s argument for increased staffing ultimately proved unpersuasive.

Jillian Johnson, mayor pro tempore, was the council member who led the push for higher wages for city workers rather than increased police spending. Johnson explained the interplay between spending more on police versus other expenditures.

The effort to raise the wage for part-time workers had actually been a long-deferred priority, ever since the city raised the minimum wage for full-time workers to $15 an hour three years ago. “We realized it wasn’t just students, teenagers working as lifeguards,” Johnson told the Daily Appeal. “We realized there were a lot of people, especially in the parks and recreation department, who were making as little as $9 an hour. These were folks who were working in multiple parks and recreation departments in the area, trying to cobble together a full-time job. They were adults with families who needed to make more than $9 an hour.”

Johnson also explained why she and three other City Council members thought additional police officers were not warranted. “We have already a police department that’s larger than average for cities our size,” she said. “We have response times that are meeting or very close to meeting our goals. Our clearance rates are generally higher than national benchmarks. All the indicators were that they were performing and didn’t need additional resources.”

The City Council vote is part of a larger effort in Durham to address local drivers of mass incarceration, and Johnson celebrated that wider movement. “We’ve invested significant resources over the past couple of years into re-entry programs and to diversion programs for folks who are charged with misdemeanors who we’d rather avoid getting into the system at all,” she said. “Our county is working really hard on bail reform. And we just elected a new DA who has been really great about thinking about the role of district attorneys in mass incarceration and what we can do to reverse that. The entire community has been thinking critically to try to stem this tide in Durham over the last couple of years. All of us being part of that conversation is what led us to this decision.” (In April, the Appeal: Political Report looked at a Durham initiative to reinstate driver’s licenses suspended for failure to pay fees or fines and its relationship to local efforts to improve public transit.)

“We’re not interested in increasing policing without some strong evidence that it’s what will make us safer as a community and that evidence doesn’t exist,” Johnson said.

A 2017 report, “Freedom to Thrive: Reimagining Safety & Security in Our Communities,” looked at the enormous outlay on policing and incarceration across the U.S., contrasting it with the systemic underinvestment in community resources and supports in marginalized communities. The report celebrates the work of invest-divest campaigns which advocate for “investments in supportive services and divestment from punitive institutions” and it points to the importance of processes like participatory budgeting which gives communities a voice in local funding decisions.

Kumar Rao of the Center for Popular Democracy was one of the authors of the report. “As a nation we’re spending over $100 billion a year on policing and the vast bulk at that is actually at the local level,” he told the Daily Appeal. “In cities, the single largest allocation of resources is going to the police department. … No place has unlimited resources and there are tradeoffs involved in that kind of expenditure on policing. It means less investment in the things that keep communities safe.”

In Durham, Johnson gave an example of an investment that would bring resources to under-resourced communities, and that residents will have a say in: a $95 million affordable housing bond that voters will vote on this November. The money would be used to build and preserve affordable housing, and would create jobs that would be open to current housing authority residents, who face an adult unemployment rate of 65 percent.

The investment in affordable housing, Johnson said, is an example of “the kinds of investment we need to make in these neighborhoods that are most impacted by violence.”

“Communities that are safest don’t have the most police, they have the most resources.”

Stories From The Appeal

Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey [County website]

LA Prosecutor Touts Her Mental Health Reforms, But Critics Say She’s Making the Crisis Worse. Advocates and attorneys say Jackie Lacey’s rhetoric doesn’t match her actions. [Raven Rakia]

The Appeal Podcast: American Cities’ Growing Reliance on Surveillance. Appeal contributor Mike Hayes discusses the rise of surveillance systems in dozens of American cities. [Adam H. Johnson]

Stories From Around the Country

Powerful Virginia prosecutors face challenges in tomorrow’s primaries: Ray Morrogh and Theo Stamos, the Democratic commonwealth’s attorneys of Virginia’s populous Arlington and Fairfax counties, joined a lawsuit against the governor’s executive order restoring the voting rights of Virginians once they have completed their sentences. This has been one of the defining issues in their re-election bids. In tomorrow’s Democratic primaries, they face challengers who have criticized this lawsuit, and have gone even further by questioning why any citizen should be disenfranchised at all. Steve Descano, running against Morrogh, and Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, Stamos’s opponent, have emphasized their commitment to overhauling the local criminal legal system. Unlike the incumbents, both challengers have said they will not seek the death penalty nor prosecute cases of marijuana possession, among other reforms. [Daniel Nichanian / The Appeal: Political Report]

Minneapolis police officer sentenced to 12 and a half years for 2017 killing: Mohamed Noor, who killed Justine Ruszczyk, an unarmed woman, while on patrol in 2017, was sentenced on Friday to 12 years and a half years in prison after being found guilty of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Local organizers, including the group Justice for Justine, welcomed the result as a victory for police accountability, while saying Ruszczyk’s killing pointed to larger problems. “It was not just Officer Noor on trial in this case,” they said in a statement reported by the New York Times, “but the entire justice system.” Some, including in Minneapolis’s large Somali-American community, criticized the verdict and sentence as driven by Noor’s race and background, pointing to the lack of consequences nationwide for white officers in fatal shootings, and the fact that Ruszczyk was white. [Matt Furber and Mitch Smith / New York Times] Last month, the Daily Appeal reported about Noor’s conviction and the questions about its significance for broader police accountability.

First case of methadone treatment in federal prison: In a first-of-its-kind settlement finalized Friday, the federal Bureau of Prisons agreed to provide methadone treatment to Stephanie DiPierro while she is in prison. DiPierro was scheduled to begin a 366-day sentence in April but in March sued the agency arguing that the policy of denying her access to medication for treatment violated her Eighth Amendment rights and her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. She was represented by the ACLU of Massachusetts and the law firm Goodwin Procter. [Sarah N. Lynch / Reuters] The ACLU of Massachusetts previously won a landmark ruling on behalf of Geoffrey Pesce, when a federal judge ruled that the Essex County House of Correction had to provide prescription methadone to Pesce, who faced a 60-day jail sentence for a probation violation.

Philadelphia neighborhood’s residents support a safe-injection facility: In a Drexel University survey of 360 residents of the Kensington neighborhood in Philadelphia, nearly 90 percent expressed support for a supervised injection facility. Sixty-three percent of business owners or business employees also expressed support. Kensington has been hit particularly hard by overdose deaths in recent years and is the most likely location for Philadelphia’s first supervised injection facility. These facilities offer medical supervision, access to treatment, and on-site care in case of overdoses. The Philadelphia Inquirer describes how, for the survey, “participants were asked questions, in English and Spanish, about their experiences concerning drug use in the neighborhood. Then they were read a statement explaining how supervised injection sites operate, followed by a series of questions that asked residents whether they would be in favor of a site if, for example, it was shown to reduce public injection.” Finally, survey participants were asked: “Are you in favor of an overdose prevention site opening in Kensington?” [Aubrey Whelan / Philadelphia Inquirer]

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