In a mass email to constituents on June 11, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop responded to residents cries’ to defund the police, explaining why he doesn’t think defunding the police would work in Jersey City.
This comes after the majority of almost 58 public speakers at the June 10 virtual Jersey City Council meeting discussed racial discrimination as well as appropriating funds from the Jersey City Police Department fort social services in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.
Residents advocate for change
Trevor Batchelder said Jersey City must undertake serious measures that “go beyond fixing current policing,” calling for the city to defund the police department,
“All that boils down to, what it means is we are putting our money where our mouth is,” said Batchelder, stating that by moving funding from the police department to needed community programs the city will reduce the need for policing by reducing the reasons why some crimes are committed.
He pointed to Camden, which dissolved its police department in 2012 and created the Camden County Police Department in 2013 which focuses on a community policing model.
Camden has since seen a decrease in the crime rate. Violent crimes have decreased by 42 percent in seven years and excessive force complaints against police officers have decreased by roughly 95 percent since 2014.
Resident David Spencer said the police budget makes up almost 20 percent of this year’s municipal budget. The city has currently allocated the department roughly $112 million.
“It’s been said many times tonight that a major portion of the police department’s budget must be diverted to things that actually strengthen our neighborhood such as affordable housing, education, health care, drug addiction treatment, and other social programs,” Spencer said.
He also called for the creation of a Civilian Complaint Review Board “with teeth.”
“To be blunt, officers should be scared to do anything that would cause the board displeasure,” Spencer said.
Resident Akasha Maples also called for defunding the police, noting that officers could be retrained into other community-focused careers such as social work, stating that policy changes and committees are just a “Band-Aid.”
“Jersey City citizens do not want Band-Aids to treat symptoms of systemic issues, we want to pluck the issues of white supremacy from their roots, starting with divestment in JCPD,” Maples said.
One speaker, Rod Hezarkhani, said he is the son of immigrants from Iran and said he believed defunding the police could be dangerous.
“This is playing with fire,” Hezarkhani said. “I have to tell everyone who is listening that once upon a time the protest against the Shah, the King of Iran, was about human rights. This ended in a nightmare that still exists today… In Seattle, there is a literal armed Marxist rebellion that has claimed territory. I have studied how revolutions happen. This is madness, and as a major city we need to be committed to making sure that this doesn’t take hold here.”
Fulop weighs in
Fulop said the administration has shifted more resources to social services over the last six years while also restructuring the police department, noting that as a result the city has seen a larger investment in libraries, recreation programs, health and human services, and youth development programs than in previous years.
He said the city has seen historic lows in crime and that city social service programs have grown at a rate of 22 percent while the police department’s budget has grown by roughly 6 percent.
He said the percentage of the budget that Jersey city spends on the police department is less than most cities “while achieving better results.”
He said while he is willing to look at options to spend more money on social services he is “not willing to take steps that would be counterproductive to public safety.”
Fulop said that for people who believe the JCPD should be given less funding that the majority of the budget is 99 percent salaries which “means that defunding the budget translates to officer layoffs,” noting that the most recent hires would be the first to be let go as “in government, layoffs (by law) don’t allow for an arbitrary selection of good performers vs. bad performers.”
“I’m sure you would agree with me that laying off our newest police officers that happen to live in the city, that are the officers who represent the diversity in the JCPD, and are the officers that have been engaged with the community in a positive way is NOT the solution here,” Fulop said. “Over the years, we have seen a historic decrease in crime within Jersey City and that is largely because of our investment in social services, recreation, re-entry programs, economic development AND public safety.”
He said he will continue to listen to learn where the city can improve and keep the public informed of local government and local decisions.
Council creates committee
During the Wednesday meeting the council adopted a resolution, sponsored by Council President Joyce Watterman, to create an advisory committee to review policies of the police department
Over the next nine months the committee will review the JCPD’s policies and procedures on police enforcement and discrimination, make findings as to whether these policies and procedures are effective and fair, and propose amendments to these policies and procedure if necessary, including the potential formation of a Civilian Review Board.
The committee will be composed of three council members, a police officer or judge, a community leader, religious leader, educator, and one representative from each ward.
The council adopted the resolution with an 8-0-1 vote. Councilman Richard Boggiano abstained.
The council also unanimously adopted a resolution declaring May 25 Black Lives Matter Day.