Proposed New Castle County ordinance would redirect funds from police to community services
Amid nationwide calls from some activists to “defund the police,” New Castle County Council will likely consider its own proposal to redirect funding from the police department.
An ordinance introduced before New Castle County Council went on summer break would reallocate close to $900,000 from this year’s police department salaries budget to the county’s Department of Community Services, where it would support “community initiatives and racial justice in New Castle County.”
The proposal’s primary sponsor, Councilman Jea Street, says it is not a “defund the police” ordinance, since the money is currently allocated to eight positions that were vacant when the budget was written. The Director of Public Safety and Deputy Police Chief positions remain vacant.
But County CFO Michael Smith says the funding is currently being used to pay a class of cadets in the police academy. He adds the police department regularly uses its entire salary budget, despite attrition and vacancies, to pay for overtime — and if the ordinance passes, County government would need to find funding elsewhere to make up the difference. He says that could mean tapping into the tax stabilization fund or instituting a hiring freeze on other departments.
Smith says the County Administration’s priority is to maintain the current number of authorized positions on the police force.
Councilman Penrose Hollins is co-sponsoring the ordinance. He supports a “remodeling” of police to emphasize public safety.
“Police officers are becoming more or less the catch-all for problems that they’re not trained for,” he said. “Often that leads to acceleration of force, especially when police officers are trying to deal with mentally ill members of our community.”
A state police officer fatally shot a suicidal man in Lewes last year. According to a state Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation, the officer had radioed for a Crisis Management Team, which apparently did not arrive.
Following the release of the DOJ report last week, ACLU of Delaware Executive Director Mike Brickner called for crisis intervention training for officers to be expanded and more mental health counsellors to be made available for similar situations.
The ordinance introduced to Council July 28 does not specify exactly how the money would be spent within the Department of Community Services. County officials there would determine what programs the funding would be allocated to.
“I hope that some of it will be used to expand the intervention specialist program, which is award winning,” said Councilman Jea Street. “And we definitely need to start down the road of spending county money on housing.”
County FOP president Jonathon Yard says he does not oppose the ordinance as long as it does not permanently cut positions from the force.
It would only impact this year’s budget and does not expressly reduce the number of positions in the Department of Public Safety.
County Council will reconvene during the last week of August.