Despite protests from community members and a proposal from two of its members to cut $9.6 million from the police budget, the Hartford city council voted Wednesday night for a $2 million reduction and reallocation of police funds.
“Cutting nearly a quarter of the police budget overnight would not have been responsible, and it also would not have been transformative,” Mayor Luke Bronin said in a statement. “It would have just left us with a hundred fewer officers, no community service officers, no walk beats and unacceptable response times.”
But the council did approve a $1 million decrease in the police department budget and a $1 million internal reallocation of funds, which was proposed by Democrats. According to official documents provided by the Working Families Party, the Democratic-proposed plan includes moving $500,000 from both the detention center and the Vice, Intel & Narcotics unit to go toward establishing a permanent domestic violence unit ($300,000) and community walk-beat officers and a training program ($700,000).
The $1 million reduction would go toward the Department of Public Works, Office of Corporation Counsel, the Department of Families, Children, Youth & Recreation, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Development Services.
Several hours before the vote, Working Families Party council members Wildaliz Bermudez and Josh Michtom watched from the steps of Hartford City Hall as a group of protesters gathered outside with demands to defund the police department. The mayor’s initial budget allocated $45.9 million for police. Michtom and Bermudez’s proposal detailed, down to the penny, how much to trim from various police units.
“I’m disappointed that the Democrats not only didn’t back the proposal, but refused to negotiate at all,” Michtom said. “It's frustrating to see them disregard both data on policing and the demands of thousands of Black people and their allies, who have taken to Hartford’s streets in the last weeks. When given a choice between social services and guns, they chose guns. I think Hartford deserves better.”
Protesters at the rally said more police won’t help Black and brown people feel safer in their community. Rally organizer Elijah Hilliman says communities can take care of themselves.
“The concept of having autonomy is so foreign because the United States government has done a great job at preventing any community from being fully autonomous,” Hilliman said. “I see that our communities can take care of ourselves. We can police ourselves, there’s so many ways and resources that we can come together.”
Protesters shared a list of demands, including replacing police with what they call “nonlethal community safety personnel” to address any nonviolent calls that come into the department. In the fatal case of George Floyd, a store employee called the police claiming Floyd used fake money. Other speakers at the rally said officers who are stationed to direct traffic or work along parade routes for special events could be replaced by Hartford residents who need income.
But Hartford Police Union president Anthony Rinaldi says cutting the police budget would be dangerous.
“If they slash our budget and cut 25 percent of our budget, there will be layoffs at the police department,” Rinaldi said. “Layoffs are done on a seniority basis, which means these younger police officers, a lot of them minority, would get laid off.”
Though 36% of Hartford’s residents are Black, only 11.5% of its police officers are Black, compared to a population of 12.7% white residents and 65% white officers, and 45.4% Latino residents and 22% Latino officers, according to the Connecticut Mirror.
A spokesperson for the Hartford Police Department declined to comment on how the department came up with the $45.9 million figure, instead deferring to the mayor’s office. According to Rinaldi, the police chief sits down with commanders within the department to figure out what they need in terms of staffing, resources and programming.
Critics, including Michtom, Bermudez and other members of the community, have questioned why the department employs over 400 officers for a city as small as Hartford. Rinaldi said that over the weekend, police responded to more than 30 gun-related calls throughout the city. He thinks fewer officers would make addressing gun violence harder.
“Typically, those calls take three to four officers to respond, obviously because of the seriousness of the nature of the call,” Rinaldi said.
When it comes to the discomfort and distrust that Black and brown people feel around police, Rinaldi said he wants everyone to feel “comfortable and safe” with Hartford police.
“The last thing we want is for somebody to feel uncomfortable and not able to approach a police officer when they need help,” Rinaldi said. “Everyone has a right to file a complaint against a police officer … We take all of these complaints seriously.”
Rinaldi said they want to continue to build a bond with the community.
“Obviously that’s very important for the community to have trust in this police department and they should, they’re supposed to,” Rinaldi said.
But some at the rally were skeptical of the department’s capacity for accountability. In 2018, a Hartford police officer was fired for telling a group of handcuffed Black and brown young men that he was “trigger happy.” And a handful of other officers over the years have not been disciplined for fatal use of force. Hartford State’s Attorney Gail Hardy has ruled in many instances that their use of force was justified.
“Why will we continue to finance people who are not doing their job? When you’re at a job and you’re not doing their job, what do they do? They fire you,” Marcus Washburn said of officers who often resort to using their guns or excessive force rather than other tactics.
Approximately 10,000 people were killed by police between 2005 and 2014 nationwide, but only 153 officers were charged, according to a Bowling Green University database. And 96% of police misconduct cases investigated by the Department of Justice do not result in charges, according to The Washington Post.
Longtime Hartford activist and community organizer Kamora Herrington believes there are no “good cops.”
“We have, all at some point, gone and taken a job and about three weeks in realized it didn’t fit, but that paycheck feels good. Good cops, guess what? I hear you, I feel you -- quit,” Herrington said. “Until you walk away from that paycheck and that retirement, we don’t believe anything you say … Your job allows you to murder us.”