A budget shows your values. But at the same time, people resist change even when they know reform is needed. Both of these thoughts are on my mind as we amended the 2021 City of Columbus Budget. This is the toughest budget in years because our citizens are living through the compounding crises of COVID-19 and restoring trust in our Division of Police.
The budget City Council will pass on February 22 will be uncomfortable for many. However, the status quo of our $334 million Division of Police and decades of increased funding have not given our residents the justice and safety they deserve.
As we bring in new Division leaders, new recruiting tactics and training, and work with neighborhood safety partners, the 2021 budget must make change real.
I appreciate Mayor Ginther for advancing a strong proposed budget to serve as a foundation for the amendments my colleagues and I have worked on over the past several months.
The 2021 budget allows Council to work with the administration to continue basic neighborhood services, without going beyond our means or tapping into our savings. In addition to funding neighborhood services, it sets aside $10 million for each of three areas of COVID-19 relief: Support for Families, Support for Small Business and Economic Recovery, and Support for Front Line City Operations.
The biggest change is the newly created $10 million fund to Reimagine Public Safety. This was created after 22 hours of public hearings, 4,000 survey replies, dozens of meetings on how we effectively enact change, and weeks of protests. We heard you and we listened.
This budget invests in the recommendations of MATRIX and the Community Safety Advisory Commission. Our budget amendments lay the groundwork to add new tools to our public safety toolbox and advance my top priority, an Alternative Crisis Response operation.
The new division of alternative crisis response will house both co-responder models like the Mobile Crisis Response team and, in the future, trained civilian response teams to answer calls for non-violent mental and behavioral health calls, addiction, individuals experiencing homelessness, and more. These folks need care, not handcuffs.
With an ongoing audit of Police recruitment, civil service, and hiring practices, Council is calling for a pause on recruit hiring for the proposed June 2021 class. Our residents deserve to know that the recruitment and screening process is rigorous and puts the best possible public servants into the Division of Police. After the audit is returned, it makes sense to add officers to future classes.
Delaying this class allows for $2.5 million to be redirected for more than $1.5 million for neighborhood anti-violence efforts, $250,000 for youth diversion and job programs, as well as more than $250,000 for additional training and first aid equipment for Police officers to implement Andre’s Law.
The budget also provides $1 million for the creation of the civilian review board and hiring of the Inspector General as proposed by Mayor Ginther and supported by a vote of our residents.
Some budget decisions may not sit well with many following a year of increased homicides. As I wrote my budget speech, news came that our city lost a 14-year-old to violence. For the last year and a half, I’ve called every parent of a youth killed in our city. It is heartbreaking. Just adding officers is not enough. That’s why we need the Division and every officer to embrace change, to hold themselves and their peers accountable, and to re-engage with community policing needed to prevent and root out violent crime.
This is a budget to help guarantee justice and safety for all residents. We must stack hands to do the hard work of rebuilding the bonds of civic trust that were so badly fractured last year.
It’s on all of us to keep our city safe. I ask that stakeholders on all sides show grace and patience as we walk forward these reforms and build a justice system worthy of a great city.