Sacramento City Council OKs budget, rejects proposal to move police funding to homeless services

Sacramento police respond to an individual causing a destructive scene at AmPm on J Street.

By Kristin Lam, CapRadio

Sacramento City Council on Tuesday approved a $1.5 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year and rejected a proposal to move funding from police department vacancies to homeless services. 

The council voted 6-3 against Council member Caity Maple’s proposal to redirect $6 million of police funding to the Department of Community Response for homeless calls for service. 

Officials in the majority said police will need to spend the savings from vacant positions on overtime costs because patrol is understaffed. Police Chief Kathy Lester said the department has 101 sworn position vacancies and expects to have 45 vacancies remaining by the end of next June after promotions and hiring academy graduates. 

Maple, along with Council members Mai Vang and Katie Valenzuela, argued moving the $6 million would allow community response to handle homeless behavioral health calls 24/7. The department currently operates Monday through Friday during business hours. For this calendar year so far, homeless concerns have been the third-most frequently reported type of request to the city’s 311 customer service line, according to data shared during the meeting. 

“This was our chance to be bold, act in accordance with the data, and ensure that our resources align with our calls for service,” Maple, Vang and Valenzuela said in a joint statement released after the meeting. “And, though this City budget includes numerous programs we deeply support, we could not in good conscience support a budget that continues to reflect a failure of policy.”

The rest of the council approved the budget, which includes minor spending changes compared to the proposal released last month. Changes include extending violence prevention police contracts, which brings the total police budget to about $228.6 million, another record high. The council has approved additional law enforcement funding every year since June 2018, according to city budget documents, despite how it passed a resolution in October 2020 redefining public safety beyond police and fire. 

In comparison, the city annually spends about $41 million to $43 million on homeless services, City Manager Howard Chan said. The council on Tuesday approved spending an additional $1 million of Measure U sales tax funds on homeless services in the upcoming fiscal year not to increase services, but to keep them at the same level. 

Mayor Darrell Steinberg voted against Maple’s proposal, but acknowledged he introduced the Department of Community Response to reduce the number of calls police handle. The department currently sends social workers and outreach specialists to encampments to refer people to services, but the city’s 1,100 shelter spaces are typically full. Steinberg said he wasn’t comfortable immediately moving $6 million without more data. 

“We’re still grappling with this question of call times and the real balance we’re trying to strike between investing in community alternative response and that very real divide in our community about how much policing is enough,” Steinberg said. 

The police department’s average citywide 911 call response time is 10 minutes for emergencies, 22 minutes for mid-level issues and 43 minutes for report type calls, Lester said. She added wait times would be longer if the department didn’t pay patrol officers overtime. 

From July 2022 to June 2023, the department spent $17.7 million on overtime, going over its budgeted $5.9 million, according to a document displayed during the council meeting. Lester said overtime costs for the upcoming fiscal year will exceed the $6.6 million it expects to save from vacant positions. 

The approved budget also includes a reorganization of the police department to move 25 officers from other assignments, such as expiring hospital contracts, to patrol. Budget Manager Mirthala Santizo said those changes are cost-neutral. 

Outside the police department, some changes to the initially proposed budget are setting aside $250,000 to start a language access program in the wake of a city audit and reallocating $450,000 for Southside Park pool repairs

City officials also approved earmarking $500,000 for the Family, Unity, Education, and Legal (FUEL) Network for Immigrants if the program passes an audit and the council approves a new contract. The initial budget proposal didn’t include continued funding for the FUEL network. 

The new budget year begins July 1 and will mark the beginning of the Measure L children’s fund. Sacramento is slated to set aside roughly $8.8 million for the fund and can spend up to 20% on administrative costs in the upcoming year. But the city won’t be able to start spending the fund on youth services until July 2024, after the council approves a five-year investment plan. 

This story is part of the Solving Sacramento journalism collaborative. Solving Sacramento is supported by funding from the James Irvine Foundation and Solutions Journalism Network. Our partners include California Groundbreakers, Capital Public Radio, Outword, Russian America Media, Sacramento Business Journal, Sacramento News & Review, Sacramento Observer and Univision 19.

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