Baltimore residents protest increase to police budget that doesn't even hire more cops

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The City of Baltimore held what was labeled as a Taxpayers’ Night forum on Wednesday evening and there was an encouragingly large turnout, both online and in person. Topics of discussion revolved around the next city budget proposed by Mayor Brandon Scott. Not everyone was in agreement, however. Some of the attendees were there to protest Scott’s inclusion of a $5 million increase to the budget of the Baltimore Police Department. It was the second year in a row that Scott has put more money into the Baltimore PD. Some of the protesters were quick to remind the Mayor that when he ran for office, he promised to defund the police. They proposed that instead of a five million dollar increase, the police budget should be slashed by $100 million, with the money being diverted to other community programs. (Baltimore Sun)

The hybrid event was relatively calm compared with public testimony heard during the previous budget cycle, but the subject of resident requests and protests remained the same: Spending for the Baltimore Police Department should not increase. Rather, 30 residents and activists urged the Board of Estimates to cut $100 million from the police department’s allocated funds and use those dollars to enhance community organizations that specialize in housing, health care, substance use treatment and other programs.

The $4 billion budget proposal released earlier this month would increase the police department’s budget by $5 million to a total of $560.4 million for the next fiscal year, which starts in July. Police stand to receive the second-largest portion of city funds, following the Department of Public Works’ $620.9 million budget.

When I say that “protesters showed up” for the meeting, we should be clear that we’re not talking about a lot of people. There were approximately thirty protesters. They appear to be the holdouts from the “defund the police” movement, but they are far from being a majority these days. Recent polling has shown that other proposals to reduce crime and violence are now very popular across Maryland, including in Baltimore. Those proposals are also viewed favorably by a solid majority of Black residents.

It appeared that the protesters really didn’t seem to understand the specifics of the police budget increase, either. Unfortunately for Baltimore, this increase is not intended to hire any additional officers. The money is being soaked up by a combination of health benefits, workers’ compensation and inflation. It will also be needed to cover a new contract with the police union that included a pay raise for new recruits in an attempt to attract more applicants.

It’s fair for some of the attendees to criticize Scott for reversing his position on police funding because he was on the record about that. But that was in 2020 during the height of the defunding madness. In 2022 that landscape has shifted entirely, with voters placing a far higher priority on cutting the crime rates than reforming the Baltimore PD.

Even though their numbers may have been small, I still find it amazing that you can even find thirty people who are willing to show up and call for less police funding. Violent crime in Charm City remains at historic highs. The city is already well on its way toward recording more than 300 murders for the seventh straight year. The gangs are still running significant portions of the city and carjackings are common. People have been moving away at a sufficient rate that Baltimore’s total population has actually dropped in recent years.

Like many other large cities in America, the tide of public opinion has slowly been reversing in Baltimore. People have seen what happens when you work to decrease the scope and power of the police and decriminalize the actions of those who choose to violate the law. And most of them don’t like the results. If Brandon Scott can’t get the crime rates under control, the voters are going to need to show him the door and find someone who can get the job done.