Baltimore residents lobbied for a reduction in police spending and more investment in social services during the city’s second annual Taxpayers’ Night on Thursday, the last chance for the public to speak out about the city’s proposed budget ahead of the Baltimore City Council’s consideration of the plan next month.
Over the course of several hours, residents argued Baltimore has overinvested in a police force that has not made the city safer. Funds would be better invested in housing, health care, substance abuse treatment and other social programs, they said.
“Residents of the city have desperate needs,” said Jayla Scott, a resident of Charles Village and a community health advocate at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.
Scott noted that housing and homeless programs in Baltimore receive pennies for every dollar spent on police in the proposed budget.
“What good is the supposed safety that BPD offers if people don’t have homes to go to?” Scott said.
Mayor Brandon Scott’s $4.1 billion proposed budget, his second since taking office in December 2020, increases spending for the police department by $5 million, but also proposes some changes to the department’s operation. The plan calls for eliminating 30 vacant sworn officer positions in favor of 35 civilians who would assist with investigations by tracking down leads and searching databases for information related to cases.
Additionally, nine members would be added to the department to staff the city’s Group Violence Reduction Strategy, which was deployed on a pilot basis in the Western District last year. The strategy, a partnership between the police department and the Office of the State’s Attorney, focuses resources on people most likely to be the victims of violence or perpetuate it.
Overall, Scott’s proposed budget holds the line on taxes and includes a $65 million increase in education spending mandated by the state. About $792 million would be spent on capital projects.
The spending plan currently rests with the Baltimore City Council, which will begin a week of hearings on the proposal Tuesday. The board has the authority to make cuts to the spending plan, but cannot reallocate any savings to other portions of the budget. A charter amendment due to take effect July 1 will change that process for next year’s budget.
In addition to advocating for a reduction in police funding, residents in attendance Thursday also called into question the city’s current budgeting process, specifically the Taxpayers’ Night format.
Rob Ferrell, a senior organizer with Organizing Black, called the process a “sham” and said Taxpayers’ Night is “an insult to the residents of Baltimore.”
“To have a process where people are invited to speak and knowing full well at the end you will make no changes,” Ferrell said. “It just might be worse than having no process at all.”
Organizing Black was among several groups with the Campaign for Justice, Safety and Jobs that organized a rally outside City Hall ahead Taxpayers’ Night to protest police spending and lament a lack of transparency in the city’s budgeting process.
LeAnna Harrison, a representative of CASA Maryland and a Mount Vernon resident, joined the rally. Harrison, a former Baltimore schoolteacher, said she was “disheartened” to see the disparity between the city’s spending on police and education.
“While the city allocates almost 40% more to police spending, Baltimore schools continue to underperform and continue to underdeliver for our children because our city would rather invest in over-policing our children than investing in their futures,” she said.
Harrison called on the city to reduce police funding and create a $30 million wellness trust fund that would assist city residents with access to health care regardless of their immigration status.
Thirteen of the City Council’s 15 members attended Thursday’s event either in person or virtually, primarily listening to residents without engaging.
Councilman Ryan Dorsey announced a boycott of the event in advance on Twitter.
“After five budgets unchanged by taxpayer night, I cannot in good conscience participate again believing it misleads people into believing their testimony will make a difference,” he wrote.
Dorsey said he still supports the organization and testimony of city residents at Taxpayers’ Night, particularly those who advocate for reallocating police funding.
While the City Council has no ability to reallocate funding in the proposed budget, a group of members have signaled intense budget discussions may lie ahead.
Last week, Councilman Eric Costello, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, delivered letters to various city agency heads demanding data ahead of budget hearings and in some cases action. The letters, which had the backing of five other council members, asked the Baltimore Police Department to produce a short-term crime plan by June 3 to address rising violence in the city.
At a previous committee meeting, Costello said the council “will not move on the budget” unless questions regarding Department of Public Works spending are answered “in a timely fashion.” Public Works also received a letter from Costello demanding answers to various questions ahead of budget hearings.
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Council President Nick Mosby thanked residents for participating Thursday and said their feedback made it clear that the City Council needs to do a better job of communicating the budget process to the public.
“There is a lot of misinformation, and it would be easy for folks to not necessarily understand or know,” he said. “Council has to do a better job of laying out those processes and procedures.”
While many of the residents in attendance Thursday advocated for a reduction in police spending, the meeting also was well attended by representatives of the Poppleton neighborhood who spoke out against development in their community.
Poppleton residents are engaged in an ongoing dispute with the city over the use of eminent domain in the neighborhood. More than 500 homes and lots there are included in a planned redevelopment of the neighborhood that the city signed 15 years ago with New York developer La Cité.
Resident Sonia Eaddy, whose home was condemned using eminent domain, attended Thursday, calling on the city to stop its gentrification efforts.
“What I’m looking for is the city to stop with your policies,” Eaddy said. “Come into these neighborhoods. Allow neighborhoods to be part of these plans.”
“Y’all are pushing us out,” Eaddy said over loud applause from the crowd of residents sitting around her. “We’re not going by choice.”