LANSING — A Lansing City Council member wants a committee to study ways to halve the Lansing Police Department’s budget over five years.
The proposal, presented by Council Member Brandon Betz on Tuesday, follows nationwide calls from activists who want cities to cut funding from law enforcement and to reinvest that money in social services and anti-poverty programs.
Lansing has budgeted $46.5 million for the police department in the current fiscal year which began July 1. Most of that money, $39 million, is earmarked for personnel, according to a budget resolution.
Betz’s proposal would create an ad hoc committee whose members would study how best to redirect money from the police department to “community-led social programs (that) are proven to increase community safety in a more cost-effective manner than policing.”
Council members would appoint people to the committee and the committee’s recommendations would be non-binding. Lansing’s mayor introduces budget resolutions with ultimate approval required from a majority of the eight-member City Council.
The police department budget represents more than a third of Lansing’s general fund and roughly one-fifth of the total budget.
Betz, whose term ends Jan 1, 2024, suggested the city could begin by cutting the police department budget by 20% or $9.3 million in the next fiscal year. Within five years, he wants the budget cut by $23.5 million to 50% of its current funding level.
“We say that this is an end to using our tax dollars to confine us, to over-police us and to brutalize us.” Black Lives Matter Lansing leader Angela Waters Austin said Tuesday at a news conference in support of Betz’s proposal.
Betz, who represents the city’s First Ward, acknowledged cuts of that size would almost certainly involve reductions in staffing, including layoffs. Some changes could be constrained by Lansing’s police union, which is operating under a contract that sets wages and benefits through summer 2022.
A proposal from Mayor Andy Schor would have redistributed $170,000 in unspent money, including $100,000 from the police department, last fiscal year to a fund supporting local anti-racist organizations.
An additional $50,000 would have come from the Human Relations and Community Services department and $20,000 would have been redirected from the mayor’s office.
Betz called that measure a “tiny drop in the bucket,” and said money redirected from the Human Relations department would have been taken “directly from Black communities.”
City Council members tabled the anti-racism fund proposal in June and could discuss it further this month.
Hundreds of people marched in Lansing this summer against racism and police brutality following incidents including the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a white Minneapolis police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
Dozens of residents at City Council meetings have urged officials to defund Lasing’s police department with some activists calling for the police department to be abolished entirely.
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