On the anniversary of George Floyd’s tragic death, people are still mourning, and many of us still call into question the police-involved fatal deaths of Black and brown people across the nation. Although Derek Chauvin was convicted, we seem to have more heartache than justice – and budgetary accountability.
Last year during Black Lives Matter demonstrations, constituents flooded the Monterey County Board of Supervisors with pleas for refunding the community. These constituents were told to get involved sooner in the budget process, and bring their concerns back for the next budget cycle. Since then, an intergenerational and eclectic crowd of constituents has assembled with innovative ideas around rethinking public safety.
At that time, elected officials took a moral stance against racism and noted the gradual inflation of the Sheriff’s Department budget. For context, the county sheriff’s budget ($122 million) is roughly equal to the overall city of Salinas budget ($116 million). Salinas’ police department accounts for 45 percent of the total.
Furthermore, law enforcement pushes narratives about how communities are unsafe and that additional correctional staff, equipment, and training are needed. California youth crime trends are at a record low. With crime going down, wouldn’t that lead to historic employment creation? And, by the way, did people notice the Seaside Police Department received a set of swanky Tesla patrol cars?
Budgetary processes pit county departments against each other as they vie for limited dollars. The process morphs into a battle between the have’s, want’s, need’s, and deserves. The budget season is almost like the Oscars; full of disappointments and successes.
Not surprisingly, the costly over-reliance on policing, arresting, jailing and prosecuting low-to-no-income men and women of color, along with criminalizing homelessness and using jail as a de facto mental health station, leaves little to no room for other departments to advocate for themselves. Law enforcement benefits from the status quo.
The insistence on policing in our area has not made us feel safer or healthier. Areas that were dilapidated still are.
The ongoing pandemic and systemic racism will impact the 2021 budget cycle and will most likely play itself out like a barbarian sparring match between departments. In many cases, though, departments outside of law enforcement will have to take a cut or have their department innovation once again stifled. We need a “Build Back Better Budget Plan” that is inclusive of all Monterey County residents.
Values and a moral reckoning are at play during the budget games of Monterey County. Fund parks, re-build local infrastructure, create joy, invest in alternatives to arrests, detention and make sure you prioritize the future holders: young people.