City Council and the City of Philadelphia have approved the 2021 budget for the fiscal year. The City will be reducing the police budget by $33 million and the Fire Department budget by $5.8 million. As of June 24, there are 108 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 25,443. The City’s budget will not only have to address the demands of civil activists, but also deficit projections due to the pandemic.
BJ Jones, a Black gay man living in Kensington and a Philadelphia Police Department liaison, says that this budget proposal is a start, but by no means should it be the limit of the City’s response to ongoing protests for Black lives.
Of the City Council, Mayor Jim Kenney said, “The most difficult decisions were made through a lens of racial equity. The budget intentionally limits the impact of service delays or cuts on people of color, who are disproportionately impacted by the virus and already suffering from decades of systemic inequality.”
According to the press release, the City anticipated a $649 million projection due to COVID-19, but it actually became a $749 million shortfall. However, this deficit and the demand of protesters are forcing Kenney to look closely at how money is allocated to City programs. With cuts to both the police and fire department budgets, the City has $38.8 million to allocate to other City departments. According to the press release, there will be a $20 million increase to the Housing Trust Fund, a $1 million increase to the Cultural Fund, a $1.4 million increase to adult education, and $350,000 will be earmarked for the restoration of the African American museum.
Additionally, a spokesperson for the City said, “The $33 million reduction in the PPD budget includes a $14 million reallocation, moving funding for crossing guards and public safety officers out of PPD and to the Managing Director’s Office. The remainder, $19 million, will help the City close the Fiscal Year 2021 projected deficit of $749 million, and allow restoration of some funding for affordable housing, the arts, workforce development, and adult education. There will not be a direct impact on the Office of LGBT Affairs.”
Community-member and police liaison Jones said the City must “keep the momentum going” with changes to how the City meets the needs of its community. Jones maintained that he has been a victim of over-policing and police brutality just as much as the next Black person in Philadelphia, but that the community needs to “turn hate and frustration into teachable lessons for the Philadelphia police.” He was quick to note that while he does not vouch for all 6,000 members of the PPD, there are a few officers he has worked with personally who made their mission to better serve their community, even before the protests erupted. Among the officers Jones noted was Capt. Gillespie, who approached Jones last November to personally apologize for the ways in which his department has wronged the minority and LGBTQ communities and to reiterate the mission to work together in order to effect positive change. While Jones is for defunding the police insofar as preventing budget increases and taking swift action against officers who use excessive force, he called disbanding the police “ludicrous.” However, Jones emphasized that the police should serve the public regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or creed.
“When you put that badge on, you’re a public servant. That’s what we want our officers to do. I’m not pro-police or anti-police, I am for the community. The protests are working.”