Essay: Sacramento County supervisors pass a business-as-usual budget that puts policing ahead of human needs
By Kula Koenig
Despite multiple crises and residents’ calls for change, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors approved a 2020-21 budget this month that continues business as usual, with a nearly $600 million allocation to the Sheriff’s Office while cutting $6 million from Health Services.
Once again, supervisors chose policing at the expense of the county’s people—all hidden behind a “coronavirus swap” in which County Executive Nav Gill misappropriated 85% of federal CARES Act funding to law enforcement.
People’s Budget Sacramento found that the top investment priorities for more than 2,000 residents surveyed were community-based mental health and wellness (95%), housing support and homeless services (92%) and public health and health care services (91%).
Before supervisors approved the budget on Sept. 10, thousands submitted e-comments and live testimony asking them to reinvest funds in community-based services by diverting funds from the Sheriff’s Office, which receives 37% of the county’s general fund and has been overfunded for years at the expense of vital social services that address health, housing and community well-being.
Supervisor Patrick Kennedy demonstrated strong, compassionate leadership in calling for a more effective, affordable and humane approach to mental health and homelessness by reallocating a mere $1.5 million from the sheriff towards community-based mental health responses. We need investment in Mental Health First and Community Support Teams that do not involve law enforcement. Police presence in those encounters often leads to escalation, incarceration and, in the worst circumstances, death. We agree with Sheriff Scott Jones when he stated that he wants to get “out of the business” of responding to homelessness.
Supervisors Don Nottoli and Phil Serna partly shared this vision, yet neither apparently felt the urgency to protect our lives and our loved ones. Nottoli’s suggestion to fund a behavioral health outpatient program instead of two new jail staff was a step in the right direction, though it was denied. Disappointingly, he then shot Kennedy’s proposal in the foot by asking Gill to determine the source of the $1.5 million, rather than take it from the sheriff.
“We agree with Sheriff Scott Jones when he stated that he wants to get “out of the business” of responding to homelessness.”
Meanwhile, performance politics was on full display during Serna’s “reform” proposal. The board yet again neglected housing support and homeless services, and Serna balked at $2 million to continue providing robust services—including sanitation, trash removal, food, water and other necessities—to residents experiencing homelessness.
Instead, he championed $2 million for body cameras and six new officers, despite years of research demonstrating they do not improve police behavior or accountability. This brazen disregard for research mirrors the sheriff’s presentation, which featured fear-mongering headlines about crime rising in cities that defunded law enforcement without any credible data.
So what now?
Invest in our community’s needs:
1. Scale up Sacramento County’s existing non-police response models for mental health and homelessness. Our skilled Community Support Teams run by county Behavioral Health and community-based Mental Health First should partner to develop plans to expand their work. We can begin this in the next 30 days with the allocation of the $1.5 million proposed by Kennedy, eventually increasing to $15 million to effectively meet the needs throughout the county. This should be accompanied by $2 million for services at homeless encmapments.
2. Invest in action-based solutions such as ordinances (not mere resolutions) declaring racism as a public health crisis and a budget that prioritizes human health over a facade of “public safety” that is rooted in anti-Blackness.
3. Invest in and prioritize consistent community engagement,starting in January 2021 by partnering with People’s Budget Sacramento and community organizations to make the budgeting process more participatory, equitable and transparent.
Instead of cutting the Sheriff’s 37% of the general fund, why not raise taxes in order to fill those other needs? It is a stretch to believe that people are going to stop being people. We pay for the services that we need. HM