The proposed Missoula Police Department’s funding requests for Fiscal Year 2021 were cut by members of the City Council on Wednesday as the debate over the budget continued.
The projected cuts total more than $122,000, with training and transportation funding taking the brunt of the reductions.
The overtime training budget for MPD was cut, including the removal of $77,000 once dedicated to overtime training. The Budget Committee of the Whole voted 9-2 in favor of the cuts, with council members Sandra Vasecka and John Contos casting the only dissenting votes.
Council Member Jesse Ramos was absent during the voting portion of the meeting.
First-term council member Amber Sherrill proposed the amendment, seeking to put the funds to “smart, strategic long-term investments.”
“I think what we are trying to create here with the training that we have talked about is a cultural kind of shift that is absorbing this training,” Sherrill said “As we go forward year-to-year, I think it shouldn’t actually be an overtime thing. I think it is something that needs to be absorbed into the regular budget.”
Councilmember Stacie Anderson agreed with the amendment for the same reasons.
“I think that having training is important, but I also think it is something we should expect our police officers to be doing on an ongoing basis, and this seems like a reasonable cut that doesn’t affect the actual effectiveness of the request for the training,” Anderson said.
Vasecka said the amendment would put the city’s police officers in a tighter spot.
“The police officers are already underfunded and very much overworked, so I believe that these funds are very important to give the necessary training that we are asking of them this fiscal year,” Vasecka said.
The cuts will leave $148,980 for police training in the city’s proposed budget. In the FY2021 Budget, it states that overtime funding is necessary to complete the training.
The council also voted 8-3 to slash a $45,000 request for a motorcycle and its related accessories. Council members Anderson, Contos and Vasecka voted against the motion.
The $45,000 request was to replace a motorcycle MPD retired last year. The department replaced four other motorcycles last year in their five-motorcycle fleet. The cuts reduce the department’s fleet to just four motorcycles.
Councilmember Heidi West proposed the amendment to cut out the motorcycle request. She said the cut moves the department towards more “people-to-people” interactions. With more officers on the ground, the police will be more of a part of the community they are patrolling, she believes.
“Motorcycles are uniquely used for primarily getting traffic violations, which of course have a disproportionate impact on folks that are in poverty or of people of color,” West said. “And especially with our shift to more of a community-based policing model, I would love to see officers actually not be in vehicles.”
The removal of a motorcycle leaves only a transportation truck and its related equipment in the department’s proposed $105,000 transportation budget.
Other amendments to the police budget proposals failed during the meeting. They included halving the $148,980 training budget and slashing the budget request for ballistic helmets.
According to council member Bryan von Lossberg, the current training budget is several times more than what they have seen in past years.
Councilmember Julie Merritt said they should cut it because MPD might not be able to handle so much training with “only so many hours in a day.”
“This is a huge increase in training and a couple of things come to my mind on whether it is even possible for the chief to get this training arranged and executed,” Merritt said. “We’re asking for so much more than has been done in previous years, I am wondering about the actual possibility of being able to fit all that in.”
Sherrill, who proposed the amendment to slash the overtime funding, voted against this cut. The training is a positive shift in the right direction to the eventual goals of more funding for social services, crisis units and housing, Sherrill said.
“We’re not going to get rid of the police department tomorrow,” Sherrill said.
Anderson said when she first heard of the requests for more funding, she wasn’t surprised by the amount asked for. She was surprised by how little they were doing in the past.
She wanted officers to have the training on de-escalation, implicit bias, crisis intervention training and less-lethal use of force training that the fund is expected to provide.
City council voted 4-7 against the amendment with council members Mirtha Becerra, Heather Harp, Merritt and West voting in favor of cutting bias and de-escalation training.
West also proposed an amendment to slash the $34,800 request for police helmets, saying that while she supported the need for ballistic helmets, the terms in which the ballistic helmets could be used were too loose.
“I was really dissatisfied with the answer of when those helmets will be allowed to be used. I think I would have supported this request if they are only allowed to be used in an active shooter situation, and that is the only time,” Becerra said.
“I think leaving it up to the discretion of individual officers without very narrow use outlines makes me very uncomfortable with this budget request. Mostly because I don’t think we should be funding items that could be used against the citizenry rather than very specific high risk, high mortality situations.”
While this might pose problems according to Harp, there is a need for helmets, especially regarding recent events with the armed militia members in Missoula during Black Lives Matter protests.
“We have a far more prevalent undercurrent of militia-minded individuals have in Montana and despite a couple of hi-fives that were seen — and I understand how vexing and disturbing that is between a police officer and somebody of the militia — but we need them to be able to protect us should the militia members rise up against peaceful protesters,” Harp said.
City council member Jordan Hess also didn’t support the amendment but said there should be a policy review to “fill some of those holes” with the police mask policies. He said there should be nothing in this budget that’s a “zero-sum game.”
“There’s nothing about any of these requests that are mutually exclusive to other requests and there is nothing to say that reporting a line item in the budget that means you don’t share values about public safety reform,” Hess said. “I’m not going to support anything that is a militarization of our police force, but I am going to view this as baseline protective equipment.”
The city council voted 2-9 against the amendment with Merritt and West voting in favor. They will meet Monday, Aug. 31, in a special meeting to make their final deliberations on the FY2021 budget.