Philly police chief warns City Council that budget cuts will lead to layoffs

    Clockwise from left, Council President Darrell Clarke, Councilman Curtis Jones, and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw pictured here during the legislative budget hearings for the police department on Wednesday via video feed (Image via The Philadelphia Tribune)

    By Michael D’Onofrio

    PHILADELPHIA — Cuts to the Philadelphia Police Department’s budget will lead to layoffs and snuff out investments in police accountability reforms, the city’s top cop says.

    Commissioner Danielle Outlaw laid out that tradeoff during a City Council budget hearing on Wednesday a day after Mayor Jim Kenney and legislators agreed to nix a proposed $19 million increase to the department’s budget in response to nearly two weeks of protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and police brutality.

    “If we’re talking about cutting, we’re talking about cutting bodies,” Outlaw said during the hearing conducted via video conference. “If we cut bodies, we cut the ability to do what we’re trying to do.”

    In total, Outlaw proposed a $760.2 million police budget that would raise spending by 2.5% over last year’s budget.

    The hearing marked the commissioner’s first extensive comments on the impact of a flat-funded police budget from city officials, the latter of whom aim to keep the department’s funding at this year’s funding level ($741 million).

    For members of council, now was the time to reduce the department’s budget aim calls for police reforms and a $649 million budget hole that has led to cuts to most city departments.

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    Councilwoman Jamie Gauthier said Philadelphia police have oppressed, targeted and persecuted Black people for generations, which has continued during the protest as officers have used heavy-handed tactics on demonstrators.

    Gauthier, who represents the 3rd District, said the city should prioritize investments in alternative public safety initiatives, including mental health services and violence intervention, over law enforcement. She also called for members of council to seek further cuts to the department.

    “It’s time for us to seriously consider what decreasing our investment in policing in its current formation and reimagine public safety in Philadelphia would actually mean,” Guathier said.

    Nonetheless, Council President Darrell Clarke said he and the 17-member council firmly stood behind Outlaw, who took up the job in February.

    “The commitment to support you is real,” Clarke said to Outlaw. “We want you to be successful. We want you to be the commissioner.”

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    Outlaw said the majority of the proposed funding increases — $14 million — was tied to personnel costs and mandatory under the police union’s contract. In March Kenney and the police union agreed to a one-year contract extension through June 2021 which included pay hikes.

    Upwards of 93% of the police department’s budget also was tied to personnel costs.

    “We can’t reduce payments,” said City Manager Brian Abernathy about contractually obligated pay increases. “So if we are reducing the police department’s budget significantly, it will result in officer layoffs.”

    The remaining increase in funding for the police — approximately $5 million — would go toward more officer body cameras ($1.9 million); implicit-bias training ($300,000); and the expansion of the criminal intelligence analyst program ($1.5 million) and public safety enforcement officer program ($1.9 million), among other things.

    Outlaw said budget reductions would undercut those initiatives.

    “These are all going to be things that cost money,” Outlaw said, adding, “Those things only lend to what we’re trying to accomplish.”

    Reductions to the department’s massive overtime budget also would fund those programs, Outlaw said. The department spent $54.3 million on overtime through three quarters of the fiscal year, according to the city’s financial watchdog.

    The police commissioner also laid out her priorities for the coming year, which included:

    • Crime and homicide reduction;
    • Creating an early intervention system for flagging rogue officers;
    • The creation of a policy revision schedule; and
    • A review of the department’s recruiting and marketing processes, as well as its performance processes.

    Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.