By Anaheed Mobaraki, advocacy intern, ACLU of Virginia
As many Confederate statues are coming down across the city of Richmond, calls for meaningful change in policing are on the rise. One demand calls for defunding the Richmond Police Department (RPD) and reinvesting those dollars into preventive measures like mental health care, housing and schools. By reinvesting taxpayer money into areas that support Black and Brown communities, we will not only reduce the need for police but may reduce the number of deadly interactions that result from over-policing Black neighborhoods, schools and streets.
The RPD receives too much money while other vital city services are neglected. Reinvesting a small portion of the RPD’s funds can make countless improvements in education, mental health services and housing in the city.
How much money is going into the RPD?
While Richmond’s 2021 budget was certainly impacted by COVID-19, the RPD remains one of the best funded departments in the city. In fact, many would say they are overfunded. Their budget comprises 13% of the General City fund, most of that budget goes towards salaries and overtime pay. According to data from Virginia Public Media (VPM ), RPD spent almost $2 million responding to protests against racism and police brutality in only 36 days, of which $1.6 million was spent on overtime pay. By comparison, the RPD allocates about $450,000 to training, which is only .004% of their entire budget. Training can be essential in identifying racial bias, de-escalating situations and working closely with the community rather than against them. However, the small portion allocated to training makes clear the priority placed on training.
There are many ways RPD funds could be reinvested to help strengthen Black and Brown communities and transform the relations between communities and police. Three are noted below.
Reinvest in Richmond Public Schools (RPS)
Reinvesting in Richmond schools provides more options for students to be productive citizens. If the Richmond City Council allocated a quarter of RPD’s total salaries ($12,034,520) to RPS per year, it could cover all educational expenses for 1,037 students. Studies show that a 10% increase in funding per student increases the probability of high school graduation by 7%. This increase in high school graduation rates can reduce arrest rates by 7-9%, leading to far fewer interactions with the police.
Reinvest RPD funds into mental health services
The RPD’s budget can also be reinvested in increased mental health services. In less than a month, the RPD spent more money on overtime pay than Richmond Human Services receives in a year. People with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter. By better funding mental health services, people with mental health issues can receive more proactive treatment and support. As importantly trained professionals – not police – could be the first responders when people are experiencing a mental health crisis, which would result in fewer situations escalating into potentially deadly police interactions.
Reinvest RPD funds into affordable housing
With the second highest eviction rate in the country, Richmond’s residents are suffering. The economic damage from COVID-19 has only worsened this problem as more than 10,000 eviction cases have emerged since the start of July. In Richmond, the Eviction Diversion Fund is only able to help 300 out of approximately 9,000 program-eligible Richmond families. If a little over a quarter of the RPD’s budget were reinvested to the Eviction Diversion Fund, it could financially support all the eligible families currently facing housing instability.
Be an advocate
The RPD receives too much money while other vital city services are neglected. Reinvesting a small portion of the RPD’s funds can make countless improvements in education, mental health services and housing in the city. These re-investments are important in building healthy Black and Brown communities, which have traditionally been disproportionately impacted by over-policing and a lack of community services. If you want to see less policing and less community harm, contact Mayor Levar Stoney and your city Council Member to demand the re-investment of RPD funds into education, mental health services and housing.