The new fiscal year for Massachusetts municipalities started today, and Springfield has a new budget – minus some money for its police department.
The Springfield City Council voted unanimously to adopt a $727.6 million budget for the new fiscal year after cutting $1 million in funds for the police from the spending plan presented by Mayor Domenic Sarno.
By an 8-5 vote Tuesday night the Council cut $200,000 from the police department’s $1.8 million overtime budget. On Monday, the Council, also by an 8-5 vote, cut $800,000 from the Facilities Department budget. That is the amount needed to lease a new shooting range for the police.
Councilor Trayce Whitfield, who chairs the Finance Committee, led the call to cut the overtime budget and urged the money be diverted for more police training on topics including cultural sensitivity, diversity, and deescalating violent situations.
Whitfield and several councilors who voted for the budget cut called themselves “pro-police.”
" I want everyone to know, we are not penalizing (the police)," said Whitfield.
Amidst the national outcry for racial justice and large protests in Springfield over police brutality, Whitfield said she and many of her colleagues have heard constituents’ calls to “defund the police.”
"We didn't really look into defunding the police officers, but what we do want to do is improve the training that is currently happening because whatever is happening is not working to the benefit of the Black and brown community," said Whitfield.
Councilor Malo Brown, whose father was a Springfield police officer, said cutting the police budget is “a kneejerk reaction.”
"We need not to take away resources from our police," said Brown. "We need more resources."
Sarno spoke strongly against the $200,000 cut, warning it could curtail community policing and special units that respond to neighborhood complaints about noise and blight.
"That would be very devastating to the police department," Sarno said.
He said he had already taken $125,000 from the police overtime account to be used for officer training and a new program of outreach to at-risk youth.
Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood said the overtime budget pays indirectly for training by helping to cover the shifts of officers so they can attend classes at the police academy.
" I can not train people with an instructor after 4 p.m. or before 8 a.m., so we switch their shifts and make the training available on days, so I have to replace that officer," explained Clapprood.
Councilors who voted for the $200,000 cut to police overtime were Victor Davila, Melvin Edwards, Adam Gomez, Jesse Lederman, Orlando Ramos, Marcus Williams, Whitfield, and Council President Justin Hurst. Opposed to the cut were Timothy Allen, Sean Curran, Mike Fenton, Kateri Walsh, and Brown.
When it came time to vote to adopt the final budget, Walsh and other Councilors praised the administration for crafting a budget that avoided drastic cuts despite a projected $10 million revenue shortfall.
"It protects core services and I am really really happy there are no layoffs," said Walsh. She observed that layoffs, especially for teachers, have been announced in other municipalities.
The Council also approved a $250,000 supplemental budget to fund the new Office of Racial Equality.
Sarno created it last month within the Department of Health and Human Services after he declared racism to be a public health crisis.