THURSDAY, Oct. 29 — The Lansing City Council will vote next month on a vaguer version of a resolution that had initially called for cutting in half the Police Department budget over the next five years. Instead, the new proposal calls for “significant” budget cuts with no set time frame.
Councilman Brandon Betz, in response to calls from the Lansing chapter of Black Lives Matter after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, drafted a resolution in July that would have tasked a new “Public Safety Transformation” subcommittee with finding ways to redirect 50% of LPD’s $46.5 million budget into other community programs and services designed to head off criminal behavior before it can begin.
The latest version, however, omits those specific benchmarks altogether. Instead, it instructs the subcommittee to operate under a much more ambiguous framework of “significantly reducing” the percentage allocated to policing in Lansing.
Council President Peter Spadafore, who proposed the amendment at a committee meeting yesterday evening, cast the change as a much more politically feasible alternative for when the resolution eventually reaches the City Council next month. It’ll take at least five votes to pass.
“Budgets reflect our priorities,” Spadafore said. “We’ve heard from many in our community that we should be prioritizing more social services and finding ways to help people. This amendment aims to reduce the percentage spent on policing and actually invest more into those services.”
For weeks, the resolution that could have enabled the committee to get to work has been stuck in the City Council’s newly created Committee on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. That committee spent 90 minutes yesterday hashing out the legislative language to send to the full City Council.
“I’m happy with where things are,” Betz told City Pulse earlier today. “Obviously, having a number to work with would be easier. However, we knew going into this that the process would be a negotiation. I am excited that we are moving forward as Council to do this important work.”
Committee members viewed the latest changes as a more politically feasible solution on a highly controversial issue. Conservative-leaning Council members like Carol Wood, Adam Hussain and Jeremy Garza are expected to reject any reduction in police funding — particularly one as high as 50%. Adding more generic language makes the concept palatable, Betz said.
And if Betz and an alliance of so-called progressives on the City Council — like Spadafore, Kathie Dunbar, Patricia Spitzley and Brian Jackson — still support the measure next month, it’ll actually garner five votes needed to pass, even without support from Wood, Hussain and Garza.
Lansing Mayor Andy Schor, of course, could always veto the plans, requiring a sixth councilmember to override it.
“If this is what it takes to get it through Council,” Dunbar said in supporting yesterday’s changes.
Betz and Dunbar argued to retain the 50% language as written, but eventually opted to reach a compromise. Spadafore and Spitzley, though supportive of measures that could redirect Police Department funding elsewhere in the city, were reluctant to set a 50% reduction as the target.
Spadafore also cautioned that slower, smaller reductions may become necessary to avoid layoffs because more than 80% of LPD’s budget is tied up in salaries and retiree benefits.
“I don’t want that 50% number to be the limiting factor,” Spadafore added. “This is about creating the wish list. This committee can tell us what we need. It’s our job to be realistic.”
Betz’ proposal to divest from the Police Department has proved divisive in recent months. Many local activists billed it as the only way to generate meaningful reforms and mitigate police racism. Others have sounded alarm bells over what they believe would lead to more crime.
Dunbar, for her part, has said she wants to avoid layoffs. Betz has labeled it an inevitability.
Mayor Andy Schor and Police Chief Daryl Green have each spoken against reducing LPD’s budget. The full City Council, by 5-3 vote, also rejected a budget priority last month that asked Schor to incorporate some level of police divestment into his next annual budget proposal.
Moving away from specific 50% divestment language, however, has potential to sway the vote.
Still, NAACP President Dale Copedge has said that a “significant number” of his chapter’s members do not support the concept of reducing funding to the Lansing Police Department.
Green also claims divestment would lead to fewer cops and more dangerous neighborhoods. He has argued that his department — already struggling for resources — doesn’t have room for cuts when millions of dollars are tied up in retiree pensions and other contractual obligations.
Records show that personnel costs account for about $39 million of LPD’s $46.5 million annual budget. Of that, salaries account for about 39.2% of expenses. Another 36.2% is tied up in legacy costs, including pensions, retiree health benefits and other expenses. The divestment proposal from Dunbar and Betz, in theory, wouldn’t be able to touch many of those items — leaving LPD with an actual “operating” budget of about $7.5 million annually, officials have said.
The latest resolution, if it passes City Council next month, calls for the yet-to-form subcommittee to generate a report on ways to boost social equity and racial justice in Lansing by March 2021.
Betz painted the elimination of the 50% language as a necessary compromise to get it started.
He also encouraged his colleagues to take the recommendations seriously when they arrive.
“This puts us in a frame where we’re all politically comfortable at the onset. This is going to be uncomfortable. Dismantling white supremacy is an uncomfortable conversation for everybody, including myself,” Betz added. “I just don’t want this to become a research project on the shelf.”