COPS funding passes unopposed

Ben Irwin

Funding directly for Visalia Police officer salaries and equipment receives no public backlash at city council

VISALIA – Calls to defund the police have been heard locally and gained traction nationally in the wake of multiple high-profile police killings of Black Americans this year. But at the Nov. 2 Visalia City Council meeting, it was all quiet on the public comment front when the council unanimously approved the Citizens Option for Public Safety (COPS) grant funds worth $329,437. The grant is intended to fund an officer’s salaries and equipment

A representative from the Visalia Police Department said the COPS grant funds will be used to continue funding salary and benefits for one-and-a-half existing police officer positions and seven mobile data terminals for patrol units.

A report from the Visalia Police Department cited the reasoning for needing more mobile data terminals as upcoming changes to California law and contact reporting requirements, and that officers in the field have become reliant on the use of mobile data terminals to handle daily activities and respond to calls with adequate knowledge of the situation.

California cities spend nearly three times more on police than on housing and community development, a June 2020 report from the California Budget & Policy Center states. Using 2017-18 data from the Department of Finance and the State Controller’s Office—the most recent statewide data available—the report shows California and its cities and counties spent more than $20 billion on city police and county sheriff’s departments, and roughly $50 billion annually on local law enforcement, the criminal legal system and incarceration in state prisons and county jails.

The California Budget and Policy Center claims budgeting is a value statement, and this kind of budgeting “leaves Black, Latinx undocumented Californians and many other families of color beholden to an overly harsh and unfair criminal justice system that has spanned generations and leaves these families unable to provide or build economic security for their households.”

Calls to defund the police and reform came forth from concerned residents at a June 8 Visalia City Council meeting. One woman, who called for dismantling the police force as a first step toward rebuilding it into a force for prevention, said the “defund the police” movement is about investing in mental health, drug rehabilitation programs and other resources that prevent people from returning or turning to a life of crime.

Barry Caplan acknowledged that there is normally very little input from the public about details of the budget, but that more than 30 people came to get involved in government for the first time on June 8.

Maria Espinoza Martinez expressed her frustration with the current Measure N—a 0.5% sales tax to be spent on Visalia essential city services, including police—budgeting at the June 8 meeting.

“Not a single dollar of that is going to bias training, psych evaluations while more than half of that is going to 23 new cops or police officers who have not been properly trained to interact with their community and respond to their community,” Martinez said.

No such arguments were brought up by the public Nov. 2 when the Visalia City Council unanimously approved $329,437 to be spent directly on officer salaries and equipment.

The COPS program—originally adopted in 1996 through AB 3229—allows the State Controller’s Office to allocate funds to the county auditor, who then deposits the funds into a Supplemental Law Enforcement Services Account (SLESA). The funds can then be distributed to front-line law enforcement—city police, county sheriffs and police protection districts—county jails, district attorneys for prosecution and local juvenile justice programs.

The State Controller’s Office 2020 projected allocation for Tulare County is $1,133,154, with $210,619 going to Visalia specifically. The remaining $118,818 comes from the fiscal year 2019-2020 COPS Growth funds.

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