A large contingency of the community showed up to the Bakersfield City Council meeting Wednesday to demand the Bakersfield Police Department be defunded.
After discussing the issue at length, the City Council unanimously adopted the $630 million budget for fiscal year 2020-21.
The budget called for around a 10 percent increase for BPD, allocating $119.9 million in total to the department. The increase, largely funded through the Public Services and Vital Services Measure, allows the department to add 44 new positions. BPD has said additional resources will allow officers to respond to a wider number of calls in person, reduce response times, and resume community policing, which they say is a popular request from the public.
Not everyone, however, agrees.
A broad coalition of community members have thrown their support behind the People’s Budget Bako, an alternative city budget seeking to defund the police and reallocate the funds to resources meant to bring equity to all people in the city. The premise behind the alternative budget is that reforming the police is useless because organizers say the institution has no accountability.
Providing more money to the police only gives them more power to harass and murder Black people in the street, the coalition's website says.
“The biggest thing about this topic is that it’s so simple,” said Faheemah Saluhud Din Floyd, one of the organizers behind People’s Budget Bakersfield. “It’s almost offensive. The things that we are asking for are so simple and they are such a part about basic human rights that it is ridiculous that we have to ask for them.”
She added some communities in Bakersfield have had little to no say in the shaping of the city budget in the past, and the People’s Budget gave the city the opportunity for the City Council to give those communities a seat at the table.
“People are angry, they are hurt, they are outraged,” she said in response to a question about the large turnout at the meeting. “Our community is in pain and our community wants to heal. And in order for our community to heal, we have to address systemic racism and destroy anti-blackness.”
Public comments lasted more than an hour, with about 20 people speaking on the issue. While the overwhelming majority of the speakers demanded defunding the police, there were a few voices present at the meeting in support of BPD.
One of them was local radio host and former councilman Terry Maxwell.
“As far as people my age are concerned, we do want to live in safe neighborhoods. We do want to have a place that our family can play, can do things that are what everybody dreams of,” he said during public comments. “It’s no secret that there are some that are not agreeing with what I’m saying, but again I represent a certain group in this community and we do expect that we will have a police force.”
Although the budget does not defund the police, City Manager Christian Clegg nevertheless said it addressed some of the concerns brought up in the People's Budget, including by allowing non-sworn BPD employees to respond to lower priority calls. He noted that some of the funding requests made by local activists, like education and mental health services, are funded through other entities like state and county dollars.
"Our budget in many areas is actually very well aligned with the recommendations that are being made," he said during the meeting, noting that many differing opinions were taken into account when drafting the budget. "This budget balances many of these competing priorities and takes into account the modern practices that people are asking for us to move in that direction."
Councilman Chris Parlier said he hoped the city would move forward with addressing community concerns in the future.
"Every budget that I’ve been a part of has never been perfect. There’s always been competing interests," he said. "Going forward, I’m sure other future budgets won’t necessarily be perfect either, but if we continue our outreach, we outreach to the community, we outreach to our stakeholders, hopefully we get closer to that goal."