The Santa Fe police department budget hearing is tomorrow afternoon. In 2020-2021, the line-item for SFPD was the largest in the entire budget. Please send the below letter (also attached) to your City Councilor and the Mayor – Contact info provided at the bottom of this post. Edit and tweak it as you see fit and please share and ask others to send it. The budget hearing is today at 1pm has no public comment, but you can watch it. You can offer public comment at the April 28th City Council meeting where they will vote to approve the overall budget.
Dear Councilors and Mayor Webber,
Yesterday, Mayor Webber issued a press release following the Derek Chauvin trial stating that we must “re-imagine public health and safety” and announcing the launch of an Alternative Response Unit (ARU). While this is an important step, I am writing as your constituent to hold you accountable to your stated commitment to racial justice, beyond just rhetoric.
First, the proposed ARU is only three people. Instead, it must become a full department or multiple units that are permanent and fully funded to meet the actual community need. Alongside this, there must be a drastic reduction in the Santa Fe Police Department (SFPD) budget. In FY 2020-2021, SFPD was the largest line-item in the entire budget at $22,676,029. That is more than the City spends on children and youth, human services, juvenile justice, seniors, veterans, libraries, homeless programs, recreation, and affordable housing programs combined. As Mayor Webber has stated, budgets are a black and white reflection of one’s values. While using the language of racial justice, this budget makes it clear that the Mayor and City still value the police over our community. Creating an anemic and underfunded ARU that will rely on armed police, is not a real commitment to racial justice.
The City refuses to acknowledge that SFPD has a deep problem. In 2017, then police union president, Sgt. Troy Baker, posted racist images on social media, including a car running over protesters with the text, “All Lives Splatter” and a confederate flag. Baker, a white supremacist, was elected by SFPD members who are still active today, indicating that racist views such as his are acceptable in the SFPD. In June 2020, current SFPD Chief Padilla allowed Lt. Chris McCord, who was facing possible suspension of his certification due to domestic violence, to return to his leadership position while under investigation. McCord is now the police representative on the newly formed ARU. How is this demonstrative of the City and SFPD’s commitment to actual community safety and accountability?
In 2017, Anthony Benavidez, a vulnerable 24-year-old, diagnosed with schizophrenia was shot 17 times by officers Jeremy Bisagna and Luke Wakefield—murdered for holding a “silver object.” The City used $400,000 of taxpayer money as payment to the family over his murder—the officers were never held accountable. Evidence shows that people with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter. Armed law enforcement officers are trained to kill people and should not be involved with the Santa Fe ARU.
We know police currently act as first responders to mental health, homelessness, and domestic violence. Police themselves estimate that 90% of police action is social services related and only 10% is actual law enforcement. We are paying the police for work they are ill equipped to do, which, in fact, makes them a violent threat to our community. If the Mayor and City Council are truly committed to “re-imagining public health and safety” there must be a significant (70% – 90%) cut in the SFPD budget. Those funds should be invested in the expansion of the ARU program, affordable housing, homelessness services, youth services including restorative justice programs, after school programs, recreation, transit, crisis hotlines, and nonemergency public service and resource lines (such as 211 and 311).
We ask that you move beyond simply the language of racial justice and live the values you espouse by enacting deeper and longer lasting change to keep our community safe and protected.
Contact info for the Mayor and City Councilors