Mayor Steven Fulop, three council members, and public safety officials swore in 15 new police officers on July 16 following a nine-hour council meeting in which numerous public speakers called on the council to defund the police or cut the public safety budget by at least 50 percent.
The speakers urged that the funds be allocated to social services, such as providing affordable housing, programs to aid those with mental illness, health care, and recreation programs for youth, which they said would help prevent crimes from being committed in the first place.
“Invest that money in services that actually make us safer and stronger as a community, such as truly affordable housing, youth programs, access to quality healthcare, and other social services,” said resident Elayna Thompson.
“What do police have that the rest of us don’t? State-sanctioned violence,” she said. “They are not social workers, mental health experts, or addiction counselors. They are simply people our city gives a uniform and a gun to. We have to rethink our default response of deploying state-sanctioned violence to address every social problem we have.”
Many speakers pointed to Seattle where seven of nine council members said they would support cutting police spending by 50 percent and redirect the money to alternative 911 responders, community services, and affordable housing.
In Jersey City, the proposed $612 million municipal budget would see the police department get around $112 million in funding. Of that $112 million, $109.9 million is for police salaries.
The city digs in
By comparison, the Department of Health and Human Services would get about $5.3 million.
But the city continues to argue against defunding the police.
“The graduating officers have been in the academy for the past seven months, and despite last night’s meeting and the current movement to defund the police, we cannot subscribe to a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione, city spokesperson. “Reducing the JCPD’s budget, nearly all of which goes to salaries, would mean laying off newer officers who live in Jersey City, 70 percent of whom are minorities,”
Speakers countered that these newer officers could be retrained and used as social workers or other city employees to help prevent crime.
Under the Fulop administration, the city has expanded the JCPD from 769 officers in 2013 to 950 officers today. The city has “placed an emphasis on diversifying the ranks to better reflect the community it serves while restructuring the department to enhance public safety citywide,” according to the city.
“From the mass shooting we faced in December to the challenges through the pandemic, the Jersey City Police Department is among the best in the country,” Fulop said. “Our police officers have built strong bonds in the community, and working together we have been able to drive violent crime down to historic lows.”
Public Safety Director James Shea noted that the new officers have been on the front lines helping the public during the pandemic.
“These recruits have already been on the front lines assisting the Police Department in critical situations,” Shea said. “Just days after starting the academy, they assisted with Detective Seal’s funeral, and more recently they helped facilitate operations at the city-run testing sites while the academy was closed for several weeks during the peak of the pandemic. While they’ve already experienced more than most recruits, I know they’re eager to get out into the community.”