'Defund the police.' What does that mean?

Berkeley Brean
Updated: June 08, 2020 07:19 PM
Created: June 08, 2020 06:29 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Over the last few days, we have started hearing the chants and seeing the signs that say "defund the police."

We asked the local organizers of Black Lives Matter what that means. The leaders declined to answer that question on camera, but gave me this statement:

"The public calls to defund the police are about a shifting of priorities toward the root causes of harm in our community. It means investing in social services, youth programs, health care, and non-violent interventions. When we defund the police, then we can invest in the things that truly make our community safe."

So let's look at what the City of Rochester has done and is doing. 

Since Mayor Lovely Warren took office in 2014, the police budget increased from $85 million to $98 million this year. 

Next year, mostly because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the RPD's proposed budget will be cut by $3.6 million down to $95.8 million. 

Half of that cut is removing police officers, known as School Resource Officers, from city schools. 

The proposed budget for the Department of Neighborhood and Business Development is $10.9 million. 

When I asked Mayor Warren's office about this I got a statement:

"The City of Rochester has been at the forefront of implementing police reform, including the adoption of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement standards and all eight policies to reduce police violence promoted by Campaign Zero. We have banned the use of chokeholds, require de-escalation training, verbalized warnings and the exhaustion of all available alternatives before the use of force. We also demand that our officers intervene when they see a colleague acting outside of our policies, and we have and will hold our officers accountable when they fail to comply with our standards. We require that any use of force be documented and reported. And, we regularly review our policies and procedures and post them online via the RPD's open data portal for complete transparency. 

Rochester has also adopted the most, or one of the most, comprehensive Police Accountability Boards and body worn camera programs of any city. In this year's budget, Mayor Warren has proposed to have police officers removed from our schools and she is calling on the Rochester City School District to remove metal detectors. 

Mayor Warren has also advocated for the repeal Section 50a of New York State Law that provides confidentiality protection for police officers, firefighters, and correction officers. 

In total, the City of Rochester is absolutely committed to ensuring that our Police Department truly protects and serves our residents. And, the City will continue to listen and consider how we can further strive to meet this goal."

Click here to see the city's 2020-21 proposed budget.

Go to page 26 of 601 to see how citizens in Rochester ranked services in terms of "essential" and "very important."

Go to page 27 of 601 to see comments by citizens about police in an online survey concerning "Safer and More Vibrant Neighborhoods."

Go to page 41 of 601, you'll find a pie chart that breaks down the areas the city spends money on. 

Go to page 46 of 601, you'll find the beginning of the city's Racial Equality Action Plan. (Scroll to page 58 of 601 to find the Action Plan for RPD)

Go to page 297 of 601, you'll find the section on the RPD budget including: 

  • Total budget (page 299).
  • Major change highlights (page 300).
  • Total number of police officers (page 302).

Brean: "When you hear "defund the police" what do you think that means?"

Mike Mazzeo, President Rochester Police Locust Club: "Taking resources away. Taking the ability to do our job successfully away."

Mike Mazzeo is the head of the Locust Club, the police union for the RPD. 

Mike Mazzeo: "We take 350,000 calls roughly a year. When you often hear concerns about police-community relations sometimes it's on the ability to have a response quickly and to be able to take care of a problem as well. So we have to keep those things in mind as we go forward here."

At his daily briefing, Gov, Andrew Cuomo said most police departments will be changing. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo: "So I think you will see a shift all across police departments. I think police departments that don't hear it and don't get it are going to have a real problem."

One chief of police told me the answer to solving some of these problems is more money. 

Chief Pat Phelan, Greece Police Department: "What service gets better when it has less funding? None."

Pat Phelan is the chief of police in Greece and he's also the president of the state association of chiefs, representing 600 police departments in New York State. 

Brean: "What does 'defund the police' mean to you? 

Chief Pat Phelan: "Well I think the idea of defunding the police is either to reduce funding dramatically or completely eliminate funding so that a police department can't exist."

Chief Phelan says part of the solution is better training. 

Think about this. 

He says the state mandates every cop must have eight hours of training every year on firearms. 

But he says there is no mandate to train on use of force and there's no money from the state to do it. 

Brean: "Isn't that up to the police chiefs though to train their officers and find the time, find the money to do it?"

Chief Pat Phelan: "Find the money? Where am I going to find the money? Do I go to the money tree? The reality is, I find the time and I find the money. My department. Yes, I do. But the reality is most of the departments in New York State and in the country are underfunded and understaffed."

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