MISSOULA — It's been a summer of protests and activism against police brutality, and these events were at the forefront of a discussion Wednesday afternoon as the Missoula Police Department presented a $19 million proposal to the Missoula City Council.
While Missoula Mayor John Engen backed the proposal, some community members were skeptical and offered ideas as to where the money should be funneled instead.
"Police aren't going to go get a master's in social work or a master's in counseling. We have people who are already trained to do those things," Will Fesperman said. "Why don't we just divert the funding to those people?"
Protests broke out in Missoula earlier this spring, following the death of Minnesota man George Floyd at the hands of police.
"I just want you to know that they're protesting literally your budget, Mayor Engen. It's not some abstract systematic racism, it's literally what's going on, the same system that you're trying to uphold and make worse right now," commented Daniel Carlino."
Mayor Engen wrote in a July 8 letter that, despite calls to defund the police, he believes investing in training officers in crisis intervention, racial equity, implicit bias, justice, de-escalation and use of force is the right thing to do.
"Despite calls for 'defunding' law enforcement, I propose we invest in the women and men who swore to protect and serve our community, despite tragic examples of abuse of power in other communities around the country, continue to serve with residents’ best interests at heart,” the letter reads.
"I don't think the Missoula Police Department was broken before George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis. Nor do I think the department is broken today," Mayor Engen said on Wednesday.
MPD is asking for the largest chunk of the city budget, $19,024,986, marking a 3.4% increase from the previous fiscal year.
"What's changed is that folks are paying more attention, rightly so. And want to know that I and the Missoula Police Department are keenly aware that our community has high standards for public safety, and for police officers," Engen said.
A little over $200,000 of the proposed budget is directed at training, including some for use of force and implicit bias training.
Missoula Police Chief Jaeson White said he wants community members to be in involved in building the training programs.
"Part of our strategic plan is going to include that community engagement piece, where we can measure in a realistic and meaningful way how we're doing," he said.
The budget for the police department -- and the rest of the city -- still needs to be approved by the city council.
According to Mayor Engen and Chief White MPD responded to just over 60,000 calls for service FY 2020, and less than .3% of those calls resulted in the use of force.