Opposition builds against Lansing police divestment plans

‘Significant’ portion of NAACP members against defunding

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A plan to reallocate millions of dollars from the Lansing Police Department to social services faces an uphill struggle as both city officials and local activists push back against the concept.

Among the latest skeptics: the Lansing branch of the NAACP.

“Although we have not discussed the use of police funding in a forum or a meeting, there are a significant number of members who do not support the concept of reducing funding,” said NAACP President Dale Copedge.

“We believe dialogue is good, and it can lead to solutions if movement isn’t hurried as a result of what’s happening on a national level across the country.”

Amid social unrest tied to George Floyd’s death, city officials have been scrambling to identify and repair longstanding racial injustices and social inequities. Black Lives Matter and other activists are demanding immediate cuts to LPD’s $46.5 million budget and a broad social reinvestment into Black neighborhoods.

In response, Lansing Councilmembers Brandon Betz and Kathie Dunbar proposed slashing LPD’s budget by 50% over five years, starting with a 20% cut next year. That cash would be redirected to social services for the homeless, those with mental health or substance abuse issues and more.

The LPD divestment proposal is in the City Council’s Committee on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion for review and changes before it heads off to the City Council. Whatever plan emerges would be subject to review by a new committee that would include citizens.

But that’s assuming the plan even gets rolling. Opposition is building.

Lansing Police Chief Daryl Green blasted the proposal at a public input session last week. Mayor Andy Schor and most of the City Council also haven’t thrown total support behind police divestment.

And this week, opposition became apparent within the Black community.

“Lansing is different than other communities that are experiencing more extreme racial discrimination resulting in the loss of life. However, Lansing is not completely removed from discriminatory practices,” Copedge said, noting that some type of police reform is still required.

Pushback is not-so-much based on an unwillingness to drive meaningful reforms and bridge racial divides, but on a refusal to build those social safety nets on the backs of local police departments. And Lansing, as statistics show, doesn’t carry as great disparities as other cities nationwide.

“Branch members like the ideas of additional support services,” Copedge added. “If the city administration sees value in these services, then they can be allocated in the budget, and not rushed into existence without fully vetting consequences if funding is redirected.”

Green condemned the plan last week, claiming crime would invariably increase if officers were cut. Besides, his department doesn’t have much room for cuts. Millions of dollars are tied up in retiree pensions and contractual services that must be paid, he added.

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 wouldn’t be able to touch many of those items.

That leaves LPD with an actual “operating” budget of about $7.5 million. The majority of those dollars — about $4 million — are spent on information technology and equipment rentals. The rest is divided between things like uniforms, gasoline, office supplies, utilities and maintenance.

Green told residents last week that even a modest funding reduction would create a “drastic and lasting impact on the safety of all people that visit, work and reside in the city of Lansing.” He also said it would lead to an increase in sexual assault, human trafficking, homicide and more.

“Using an untested, cookie-cutter budget reduction model is dangerous,” Green declared. “To further make cuts at this point would definitely jeopardize the safety of residents.”

Green said LPD had 260 officers on staff when he joined the department in 1997. That’s down to 206, and additional cuts would force an already lean staff into dangerous levels of overdrive, he said. Betz’ proposal would leave only 86 officers on the job, Green estimated.

Schor said “a lot of people” are telling him their concerns about public safety if police funds are cut. “I would have some tremendous concerns with reducing half of the funding to the Lansing Police Department,” he added.

The Mayor’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion is designed to advise Schor on social issues like equity and racial justice. Its chairman, Randy Watkins, also doesn’t see a need to reduce funding at LPD — nor does he see a politically feasible avenue for it to happen.

“I don’t see why we need to look at the police budget by itself to promote these programs,” Watkins added. “I’m concerned about the group of people who haven’t spoken up. I don’t think we want to move too fast in terms of taking funds away because there’s a silent majority out there — the ones who aren’t protesting — who are already comfortable with police in Lansing.”

Betz countered that Green and Schor are attempting to use “smoke screens” to overshadow underlying problems of systemic racism in the city’s Police Department and beyond.

“The real issue is about protecting Black lives in Lansing and not looking at how much of the budget we can pull out. We know we’re going to cut officers from the street. That’s inevitable.” Betz said. “Legacy costs will change over time. Contractual obligations will change over time. This is about starting from the ground up to fix systemic racism within the Police Department.”

Betz, unlike BLM, intentionally stops short of calling for Schor’s resignation, but he said the mayor has repeatedly demonstrated an unwillingness to recognize and drive changes on racial equity.

“Divestment and reinvestment are simultaneous. We’re talking about reinvesting in the community — and we know where it needs to come from. We’re reinventing public safety, and that must be done through removing funds from a department that contributes to the problem. The police are violent. Police, as an institution, was founded in racism. They don’t prevent crime.”

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