Philly City Council leaders are backing a plan to increase police funding and add more officers to the force

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Two years after freezing police spending in response to the murder of George Floyd, Philadelphia City Council leaders are backing a plan that would direct millions of new funds to the department and add more officers.

Majority Leader Cherelle Parker’s plan, which is backed by Council Speaker Darrell Clarke and at least four other council members, comes on top of a $23.7 million increase that Mayor Jim Kenney is proposing for the police department.

Unveiling their 17-page proposal a day before Kenney is due to deliver his annual budget speech, the group of council members cited the ongoing gun violence crisis as a reason to “strengthen our police force and restore a sense of of public safety and civil order in our community”.

They said their proposal would add 125 more officers and pay for a handful of other programs, including some focused on quality-of-life issues like trash and street lighting.

Parker’s office did not release an estimated total cost, saying some steps require the administration to conduct an audit to assess needs. It would likely cost more than $8 million to fund the salaries and benefits of 125 new police officers.

“There is a real belief among people that a sense of anarchy is allowed to prevail,” she told a press conference attended by community activists, elected officials and the district attorney. district Larry Krasner. “They are asking for more community policing.”

But Kenney said Wednesday that the department, which is authorized to have 6,380 officers on its payroll, is already struggling to fill more than 400 vacancies amid a nationwide recruit shortage. Additionally, more than 560 officers are on leave following injury claims.

Kenney said the city’s difficulty in attracting new officers is partly due to a new requirement that applicants must live in the city for at least a year before applying – a provision that Parker and Clarke championed in 2020.

“If council members ask that we increase our police strength,” Kenney said, “they have to remove the handcuffs, so to speak, from our ability to recruit.”

Kenney’s proposed increase to the police budget by $758 million would largely fund salaries and raises agreed to following negotiations with the police union. It also includes an additional $2.7 million for the department to purchase more cell phones and laptops for homicide detectives, and a $515,000 increase for forensic upgrades.

Jim Engler, Kenney’s chief of staff, said there were “a number of things in” Parker’s plan that the administration supports. It is not yet clear whether certain principles – such as increasing police foot patrols and promoting stronger relationships with small business owners – could be mandated by legislation, or are administrative initiatives that she wants the ministry to undertake.

» READ MORE: Cherelle Parker: 300 new community police officers could help stem Philadelphia’s pervasive violence | Opinion

The six members of the Council present on Wednesday are not in the majority out of the 17 members. But the bloc includes some of its most influential voices and sets the tone for what will likely be months of negotiations.

Last year, the Council and the administration agreed on a plan that keeps the department’s overall budget roughly stable, except for a modest increase to fund a new Citizens’ Oversight Commission.

And in 2020, as the city was plagued by racial justice protests following the killing of Floyd by police in Minneapolis, a majority of the council, including Parker and Clarke, rejected a proposed 19-year raise. million dollars from the police budget.

This effort has been largely led by a progressive wing of the Council that has expanded its political power and influence over the past five years. Clarke has long rejected calls to cut police funding, and Parker said this week that she has “never defended” police funding.

“Philadelphians want to see a proactive community policing presence in their neighborhoods,” she said, “and not just respond to crime, but they want them to be present in the fabric of their neighborhoods.”

Several council members are rumored to be 2023 mayoral candidates — including Parker — now fighting to be seen as strong on public safety issues after Philadelphia recorded 562 homicides last year, the most on record for at least 60 years.

General Council member Derek Green, also a potential mayoral candidate, said he is proposing legislation to fund signing and retention bonuses of up to $10,000 for new cadets when more than 5% of budgeted positions are vacant. He will also introduce a bill this week that would relax the residency rule and allow some exceptions for college graduates and veterans.

Parker pointed out that the city is legally allowed to waive the residency requirement when there are no “qualified” Philadelphia residents available to fill vacancies. She also said blaming the provision is a “red herring” and suggested more people will want to become police officers if their relationship with community members improves.

A handful of neighborhood attorneys said Wednesday they support Parker’s plan, which they say balances their desire for criminal justice reform and improved public safety.

“She’s got a plan in place,” said Anton Moore, an anti-violence campaigner. “We have to throw the kitchen sink on this thing we call violence. And it is a plan to fight against the young people who are being killed.

But some progressives remain skeptical. Kris Henderson, executive director of the public interest law center Amistad Law Project, said the department’s budget was already bloated and adding more officers only provided “the illusion of security”.

“We can get more surveillance, more cops patrolling the streets harassing our neighbors, but we can’t actually provide security with that.” said Henderson. “We need resources, and that sounds like a lot of things other than more money for the police department.”

Earlier this month, Henderson and dozens of other activists gathered on Market Street to call for an expansion of city-run Mobile Crisis Units, which are staffed by doctors — not police officers — who respond to calls for people in crisis. Supporters held cardboard signs with phrases such as: ‘Don’t worry about the cops’ and ‘Cops can’t heal’.

Kenney’s proposed spending plan for next year includes a $7.3 million increase in the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Services for Crisis Units.

Council members Helen Gym, Jamie Gauthier and Kendra Brooks spoke at the rally, with Gym – also considered a mayoral candidate – calling it “one of the most important fights of our budget session”.

“We need more,” Brooks told the crowd. “No more cops. We need more support.

Inquirer team writers Sean Collins Walsh and Ellie Rushing contributed reporting.

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