Jun 11, 2020

Axios Cities

By Kim Hart
Kim Hart

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Today's edition is 1,530 words, a 6-minute read.

1 big thing: Where it might make sense to cut police budgets

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

While many local officials and law enforcement experts disagree with the idea of defunding and disbanding police departments, they say some of the duties police perform today might be handled better outside of law enforcement.

The backdrop: The "defund the police" movement calls for city governments to reallocate police department budgets to socioeconomic programs and infrastructure such as housing, health care and education that have long been lacking in communities of color.

  • "While I don’t believe in defunding the police entirely, I do believe there are opportunities to make meaningful cuts in some places and rethink how we use an officer with a gun," said Julián Castro, former San Antonio mayor, HUD secretary and Democratic presidential candidate, in an interview with the San Antonio Express-News editorial board.

Cities can spend millions of dollars arresting and jailing homeless people, for example, but redirecting those resources into support for housing, mental health, addiction and employment could ultimately solve more underlying problems.

  • "What we were engaging as a police issue was not the best avenue to solving the underlying issues of homelessness in society," said Chris Burbank, vice president of law enforcement strategy at the Center for Policing Equity and former police chief of the Salt Lake City Police Department.

Mental health issues, including alcohol and drug addiction, also often result in police intervention, even though police officers may not be the best equipped to handle them.

  • Social workers trained to help individuals with addiction problems are more effective than an arrest, Burbank said. A heroin addict wandering the streets should be taken to a safe space and receive treatment, he said, rather than spending the night in jail.
  • Many EMTs are specifically trained to deal with mental health issues, and they would be more appropriate first responders than police in situations like a suicide attempt, said Lorenzo Boyd, former police officer and director of the Center for Advanced Policing at the University of New Haven.

Several school districts, including Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon, have terminated relationships with their local police departments, a move that makes sense to Boyd.

  • "You don't need an armed officer in uniform in schools, it's counterproductive," Boyd said. Counselors and trained educators are better equipped to identify and work directly with students in need.

Between the lines: Decriminalizing minor offenses would mean that fewer people wind up with criminal records that make it difficult to get jobs and housing, said David Thomas, a retired police officer and professor of forensic studies at Florida Gulf Coast University.

  • And that would allow police officers to focus on serious crimes, such as homicides and sexual assaults.

Yes, but: The devil is in the details, such as how law enforcement and social programs interact and whether social workers, for example, are part of law enforcement staff or operate independently.

  • "This is not a time for a knee-jerk reaction. It's a time to sit down and really fix what's wrong and be collaborative," Thomas said. "If you are talking about dismantling, police officers need to sit in those rooms and have conversations with the people they're going to serve."

What's next: Communities thinking about reallocating money have to be willing to do the hard work to get it right, Burbank said.

  • "We have the responsibility to take the time and energy to go through a very long budget of line items and say, 'How is this used, was this effective and how can we think about this differently?'" he said.

Go deeper:

2. Major police reforms enacted since George Floyd's death

NYPD officers stand in formation as nearby demonstrators hold a rally in Times Square denouncing racism in law enforcement on June 1. Photo: Scott Heins/Getty Images.

Over two weeks of protests across the U.S. in the wake of George Floyd's killing have built pressure for police departments to scale back the force that can be used on civilians and prompted new oversight for officer conduct, Axios' Orion Rummler reports.

Driving the news: Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner signed an executive order on Wednesday to ban police use of neck restraints and chokeholds, "unless objectively necessary to prevent imminent serious bodily injury or death to the officer or others." He specified that officers are not allowed to kneel on a suspect's neck and that body cameras must be used by those serving a no-knock warrant.

Read the full list

3. Protests move to small towns and suburbs

Protesters gather to march in Smithtown, New York, June 7. Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Black Lives Matter protests are spilling outside of city centers and taking to the streets of small towns and politically important suburbs.

Why it matters: In the age of social media, even small protests can make a powerful statement. And it shows that the desire for change extends beyond liberal metro areas.

Zooming in, per CBS: "In Ashland, Ohio, Keon Singleton started protesting alone, jogging with a Black Lives Matter sign around the mainstreet of his adopted town, where he is a college student athlete. After someone streamed it on Facebook, Singleton's lone jog became an 80-person march. He has kept the demonstrations going daily."

The big picture: These protests — from Rome, Georgia, to Norfolk, Nebraska — underscore the implicit bias felt in small towns and the economic uncertainty faced by many people of color during the pandemic, AP reports.

4. City spotlight: How Miami Gardens built trust in police

Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver G. Gilbert III surrounded by colleagues at the 2017 United States Conference of Mayors. Photo: Raul E. Diego/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.

In Miami Gardens, Florida, the police department gives hiring preference to candidates with a local address.

  • Mayor Oliver Gilbert III credits that initiative with increasing diversity within its police force (more than 50% of officers are black) and building a strong bond with the community.
  • "The surest way to make sure our police officers have relationships with the community is making sure officers are from the community," said Gilbert, who's been mayor since 2012.

Gilbert isn't focused on defunding the city's police department. The idea of demilitarizing the police and spending money on other community priorities is already happening, he said.

  • The city already mandates implicit bias training and body cameras.
  • Thanks to a growing economy and relatively stable budget, the city has been able to expand educational and recreational programs for kids, create a department of civic engagement, and invest in new public parks.

In support of Black Lives Matter, on Tuesday, at 8:46am, all digital billboards in the city simultaneously broadcast photos of local children and a message in honor of George Floyd for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — the amount of time Floyd was pinned to the ground.

"We need to always have law enforcement present, but we don't need to over-police," he said, adding that a police department should have the resources it needs to do its job. "Law enforcement isn't the only way you enforce the law; you do it with community engagement."

5. Drop in local commerce in cities hit hardest by COVID-19
Adapted from JPMorgan Chase; Chart: Axios Visuals

The sudden economic shock from coronavirus stay-at-home orders caused a stunning drop in local commerce in cities across the country, with San Francisco seeing the heaviest decline, followed by Chicago, New York and Detroit.

  • JP Morgan Chase analyzed a subset of credit card transactions typical of everyday goods and services bought and sold at the local level to create a "local commerce" economic view.

What they found: Local commerce spend declines were fairly uniform across neighborhoods with a wide variation of household median income. The only two categories that showed growth overall were grocery stores and pharmacies, with online spend on groceries nearly doubling.

But in low-income neighborhoods, local commerce spend plummeted much further into negative territory.

  • Lower-income neighborhoods saw a disproportionate share of severe spending declines over 15%, with 11.5% of neighborhoods in the lowest-income bracket experiencing severe spending declines.
  • Consumers in low-income neighborhoods were less likely to order groceries online and more likely to travel farther to reach grocery stores, increasing time away from home and the risk of getting sick.

The bottom line: The data points to what we already know — that the pandemic and its economic shocks disproportionately hurt those who could least afford it.

6. Urban files
Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon, Sara Wise, Naema Ahmed, Danielle Alberti/Axios

Coronavirus cases decline overall, rise in New Mexico and Oregon (Axios)

How racist policing took over American cities, explained by a historian (Vox)

The cities taking up calls to defund the police (CityLab)

Houston's hot weather alone is not likely to squelch COVID-19 (Houston Chronicle)

Cities are retooling public transit to lure riders back (Axios)

A housing "apocalypse" is coming as coronavirus protections across the country expire (CNBC)

7. 1 🎨 thing: Artists beautify boarded-up storefronts

An artist painting a mural to honor George Floyd in Oakland, California. Photo: Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images

Artists across the country are painting murals with messages of love and support after many businesses closed their shops following riots and protests over the police killing of George Floyd, Axios' Rashaan Ayesh writes.

Why it matters: By painting murals, artists both beautify the towns while peacefully expressing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

  • Pastor Peter Wohler, executive director of Source MN in Minneapolis, believes the murals help "combat visual signs of violence that the charred storefronts ... represent," The Star Tribune writes.

In Minneapolis, 20–30 artists from an array of backgrounds received thousands of dollars in donations to support their efforts to paint murals across the city,

  • The artists are focusing on painting stores run by people of color to support the community.
  • Some artists are working anonymously to paint murals.
Kim Hart

See you next week! Stay safe.