Elected officials weigh in on efforts to defund police departments

Published: Jun. 8, 2020 at 10:53 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Criminal justice reform is getting support on both sides of the political aisle, but the best way of going about it is creating quite a bit of debate.

One method is defunding police budgets.

"Defunding the police is not an attack on policing. It is support for the community, said Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer’s attempt to remove up to 10% of the Sheriff’s budget and reallocate it to the community services budget in a 7-4 vote.

“To take an $18 million cut would be substantial. You’re talking about laying off employees and quite frankly I think it would not be fair to the citizens of Shelby County,” said Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner.

Sawyer later amended her proposal to reallocate 5% of the sheriff’s budget but that amendment was defeated as well.

However, the idea of defunding sheriff and police budgets is gaining momentum across the nation after the death of George Floyd.

Some say divesting in often large police budgets and investing those dollars in other programs like mental health care or housing is a much better way of reducing crime.

"I think that we're in a position in Memphis and Shelby County to take dollars and put them anywhere," said Memphis City Councilmember Michalyn Easter-Thomas

Easter-Thomas taking a different approach by saying she doesn't see the need to target just the police budget.

"I believe in what's called participatory budgeting which the community has an input or your listening to the views of the community where money would be best spent," said Easter-Thomas.

While defunding police is one option, there's also a push for reform.

Monday on Capitol Hill Democrats announced their police reform agenda.

"It is a bill the public wants. It's reforms the public demands," said Tennessee Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen.

Cohen is an original co-sponsor of the Justice in Policing Act which would ban chokeholds like the one used by police on George Floyd, no-knock warrants in drug cases like the one used in the Breonna Taylor case and independent prosecutors when investigating police brutality cases.

However some activists are not just calling for defunding or reforming police departments, but actually dismantling police departments altogether.

Minneapolis City Council voted to dismantle its police department. Minneapolis is where Floyd died while in police custody.

Tennessee Republican Congressman David Kustoff released this statement to WMC Action News 5:

What happened to George Floyd shocked the nation and I support all those peacefully protesting. However, it’s important to keep things in perspective when debating national policies. Change is needed, but calls to dismantle and defund entire police departments would only hurt the communities they serve. Let’s have a serious conversation about how we build a stronger and a more resilient nation where law enforcement and the public work together”

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