Calif. police chief asks for $10M more in budget amid outcries to defund

Police Chief Andy Hall said his request for more money was largely based on raises officers are owed under their labor contract

By Thaddeus Miller
The Fresno Bee

FRESNO, Calif. — The Fresno Police Department is asking for a $10 million increase to its operating budget after months of a public outcry to defund police.

The Fresno City Council adopted a $1.2 billion temporary budget on June 30 with a continuing resolution, which is why the council is revisiting the spending plan this week as the effects of the coronavirus pandemic become more clear.

Fresno Police Chief Andrew Hall.
Fresno Police Chief Andrew Hall. (Photo/Fresno Police Department)

The police department is asking for a budget of $210 million for about 1,160 employees, a request that drew strong criticism Tuesday from residents who have pushed for a reduction in the city’s policing. The proposed police budget is $40 million more than two years ago.

The budget has yet to be voted on.

Police Chief Andy Hall said Tuesday his request for more money was largely based on raises officers are owed under their labor contract.

The chief pointed to a rise in shootings this year during the pandemic as evidence the department needed support, though he admitted factors outside his department’s influence have fed into recent violence.

Hall last Wednesday announced a citywide violent crime suppression task force in response to an alarming trend of homicides and shootings in Fresno. At 45 homicides so far this year, Fresno has 40% more deadly violence than the 32 in all of 2019, according to police.

“(The problem) is local but it’s also the state. It needs to be looked at as an entire problem,” Hall said. “We need to get our prisoners in prison and our suspects in a jail until they can be tried or released or put in prison.”

“The system has to be started up again because this is becoming a crisis of its own,” Hall said.

Hall pointed to policies that state officials have adopted to reduce crowding and the spread of COVID-19 among prison inmates. State prisons are accepting fewer inmates, leaving local holding areas like Fresno County Jail with less room.

Zero bail policies mean local suspects are released quickly, Hall said. California judicial leaders ended a statewide policy of imposing $0 bail for misdemeanors and lower-level felonies but judges have discretion to use as needed during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.

Councilmembers take stands

Councilmember Esmeralda Soria said thinking only about police is shortsighted.

“Why is it we’re seeing brown and Black kids die on our streets? It’s not because we don’t have enough resources for police officers,” Soria said. “Yes, our police department needs the resources to ensure our community is safe but our community needs the resources so that they can have economic prosperity.”

Councilmember Miguel Arias pointed to the pandemic, unemployment rates and policies from the state as factors leading to violence in town.

“I think that it’s a fact the city has given the police department an increase in funding the past two years,” Arias said. “And, even though we’ve given the police department $40 million more it hasn’t resulted in a lower crime rate, because there’s a lot of variables that our police officers do not control.”

Advocates for reforming Fresno police have pushed for the city to change its policy to keep officers out of responses to non-violent 911 calls. For example, having mental health experts respond to suicide or homelessness calls rather than armed police.

Councilmember Mike Karbassi took a stronger stance against defunding police than he has publicly before.

“You can support PD and not call for these ridiculous — I’m sorry— (expletive) policies of defunding. I’m sorry, but I have to say it,” Karbassi said. “You can also support mental health services. We can do both.”

Officers ‘may just turn the other way’

Hall said he believes the public outcry to defund police has led officers to take the “easier” route of ignoring potential vehicle stops they would have made in the past.

“I think a lot of officers see a vehicle that may be full of gang members and they may just turn the other way, because it’s easier and they get paid the exact same,” Hall said.

Resident Gloria Hernandez said Hall’s statement was concerning.

“I’m wondering is that causing the crime to go up, because the cops are too afraid to do their jobs? Are they afraid of litigation?” she said. “That leads to my concern of their lack of training.”

Hall touted the May 31 peaceful protest near City Hall after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police as a success. He also listed the plan to fund gun violence prevention program Advance Peace under the department’s accomplishments.

Advocates took exception to the chief taking credit for the work, including D’Aungillique Jackson, the president of the Fresno State National Association for the Advancement of Colored People who organized the march near City Hall that drew about 3,500.

She urged the council to not grant the budget increase.

“They can’t even give credit to the organizations that fought, stood out there, risked their lives,” she said. “We had over 100 volunteers out there keeping us safe and they took credit for that.”

©2020 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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