At a community budget meeting held Friday via Zoom, nearly 90 community members called to defund the Bakersfield Police Department and reallocate those funds to other community services.
Defunding the police has become a main goal of the Black Lives Movement. Cities across the nation are taking action as many, including Bakersfield, begin to propose budgets for the upcoming fiscal year.
“We need more money to go to neighborhoods for preventative care,” said Faith in the Valley Community Organizer Daulton Jones. “Public safety is innate to resources, not police.”
Jones broke down Bakersfield City’s proposed budget, set to be voted on June 24. Jones said in a presentation that more than 40 percent of Bakersfield City’s general fund — or $119 million — and 28 percent of Measure N funds are proposed to go to the department.
According to the budget, BPD is looking to hire 44 new staff members. In the last fiscal year, BPD hired 63 new staff members, the majority of them being officers, according to Jones, who has been working on this project for more than a year.
The proposed budget shows the city would spend more money on policing than on housing, infrastructure, libraries, parks and community centers combined.
At the meeting, community leaders asked the residents to discuss among each other where they think the funds should be reallocated to. Faheemah Salahud-Din Floyd, executive director of First and Always Melanin (FAAM), then explained what defunding looks like: creating a budget that reflects the goals and needs of the community.
Together, the group said they would like to see policing funds reallocated to infrastructure projects in black and brown communities, like street lights, better roads and sidewalks. Community members said they would also like to see more cultural centers, access to healthcare, and affordable housing.
“Bakersfield does not have enough affordable housing for people,” said Jones.
The group also proposed to reallocate funds to offer more mental health services to the community.
“This is a huge ask from Black and brown folks,” said Jones.
Jones stressed the importance of equity when it comes to budget. He mentioned differences in communities within Bakersfield. He said in the southwest, for example, there is an abundance of parks and quality infrastructure. When this area is compared to the east side, Jones said there is a lack infrastructure and an abundance of police surveillance.
“Black folks in the city have historically been dis-invested in. We can’t shoot for equality when we have groups of people here who have never had a chance at equality,” Jones said when stressing equity.
Many community members attending the meeting said they thought the current budget already gives too much money to the BPD.
“This a revolutionary moment, and we are living through this,” said Josth Stenner, another community organizer with Faith in the Valley.
Anisha Hingorani, from Advancement Project California in Los Angeles, continued with a presentation outlining Bakersfield’s past, current and proposed budgets. She said Bakersfield has had a 14-year trend of over-investing in policing.
With the proposed budget, Bakersfield City would spend $325,000 a day on policing, according to Hingorani, and only spend $118,000 a day on housing, open space, economic, and community needs.
When asked if there are reforms Jones would personally like to see in BPD, Jones said, “I don’t believe in police reform because the systems’ foundation is based on racism and bigotry.”
The city council is set to vote on the proposed budget on June 24. Find more information about the budget here.
Featured photo courtesy of Faith in the Valley