Story by Sofia Alva
Photo by Ella Jayasekera
Graphic by Charlotte Cohen
Staff Graphic Designer
The global movement for police accountability has inspired local protests and initiatives to defund the police, including resident-led group Care First South Pasadena. Partnered with activist organization South Pasadena Youth for Police Reform (SPY4PR), the group has worked to present the Care First budget approach to the City Council, which reallocates funding from law enforcement to programs that promote community welfare.
Care First South Pasadena is currently collecting signatures for a letter to the City Council that demands a 15 percent cut to the SPPD budget, reducing officers on the City’s payroll, selling a portion of SPPD vehicle assets, implementing of bicycle patrolling when applicable, and an independent audit of the department. The group also wants the City to terminate its $30,000 contract with the Foothill Air Support Team for law enforcement helicopter surveillance services.
“The police department has about a third of the [city] budget at $9.3 million,” Care First member Helen Tran said. “We are hoping [the city council] can downsize that budget to address the city-wide deficit and actually make a difference to public safety.”
According to a Care First South Pasadena press release, the SPPD budget has increased by more than 14 percent, or $1.2 million, over the past two fiscal years. The department consumes 80 percent of the new sales tax revenue, which has already plummeted due to the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, more than 50 city employees in community programs, like childcare, senior, and library services, have been laid off.
Recent SPY4PR protests focusing on specific SPPD reforms have garnered many community members’ support, especially among the local youth. However, a significant number of residents are concerned about having a limited police department and do not support defunding the SPPD.
“I believe police are simply an essential part of our city,” resident Albert Wong said. “If anything [the SPPD] need[s] more funding, especially now. I do support and believe Black Lives Matter but don’t agree with [some] parts of the movement, like the defunding of the police. South Pasadena is a safe city because of our police and I hope it can continue to be [that way] in the future.”
Other South Pasadena community members have praised the Care First budget approach and strongly support defunding the police.
“Our city needs more resources that actually benefit the community, not more police funding,” resident Rachel Woods said. “I fully support the Care First group and I hope the city council will realize how important implementing this is.”
With residents divided on the issue, Care First South Pasadena aims to educate the community about what defunding the police locally will look like.
“There are systemic issues that are causing police to kill Black lives,” Tran said. “A systemic issue is the funding to the police that [are] responsible for these killings. People [need to] understand that reducing the police budget has a direct effect on what they are saying when they say they support Black lives.”
The group has already met with council members Richard Schneider and Michael Cacciotti and is currently preparing to formally release the Care First budget plan to the City Council. If presented at a future meeting, the City Council would most likely consider the Care First model as a possible SPPD funding level for the 2020-2021 fiscal year budget, which is set to be adopted in the coming months.