Budgeting for Community Policing
Citizens of the Town of Blacksburg, like many communities nationwide, have been appalled by the treatment of George Floyd and countless others. We concur that policing should not and cannot be conducted with such a callous disregard for human life; and, have been moved by the demonstrations on our streets and around the community. Blacksburg leadership has heard from many community members who have related questions about police funding and operations.
How is the Town of Blacksburg responding to the national conversation around police violence and systemic racism?
The town is responding on multiple fronts. The Dialogue on Race, local law enforcement, and local elected officials held a joint press conference about these issues on June 2, 2020. Several Blacksburg officials spoke at the event, including Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith, Council Member John Bush, and Chief Anthony Wilson. The Blacksburg Police Department has been a partner with the Dialogue on Race movement since 2013.
On June 16, Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith and Town Council members also released a statement declaring their intention to engage in unfinished conversations about privilege, policing, and racism. We join many in the town who are asking about the future of community policing in Blacksburg and if, for example, mental health services can be moved to an agency with more resources and training on this matter. This summer, the Town Council will announce details about the establishment of a citizen-police advisory board. Similar committees exist elsewhere and have been a valuable resource for communities in search of accountability and open communication.
The Town Council is always looking for ways that we can better serve our community, and we are all willing to engage in further dialogue about the future of policing in Blacksburg. In the coming weeks and months, we anticipate many more conversations about what that future holds.
Are Blacksburg police officers trained appropriately?
Blacksburg officers receive extensive training and have a full curriculum on face-to-face communication skills and de-escalation strategies. This is an essential skill for law enforcement and, in many ways, determines their success in doing their job. The police have brought in a wide range of diverse speakers to assist with this training.
The Police Department has been nationally accredited since 1993 through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), and since 2016, has received the highest possible distinction through this accreditation process. It has adopted a community policing approach in Blacksburg. In addition to participating in the Dialogue on Race, the Police Department does not use statistical measures like number of tickets or arrests to evaluate performance. We empower our officers to assist the community in solving problems.
How much funding does the Police Department receive?
In the FY 2020/2021 budget, the Police Department received $9.3 million, or 23.3% of general fund expenditures. Personnel and benefits accounted for 79.7% of this figure, and the town’s contribution to the Regional 911 Authority accounted for 9.9% of it. The Town Council approved the FY 2020/2021 budget in April, 2020.
While the Police Department represents a sizable slice of the pie, the town does make significant investments in other areas, including recreation amenities, public infrastructure, and sustainability. If you just compare Blacksburg to a county or city budget, you might get the impression that Blacksburg spends too much on police. But cities and counties are responsible for large and expensive services (including K-12 education, social services, public health, and the court system), whereas Blacksburg and other towns are not.
Montgomery County’s FY 21 budget is $209.3 million, while the town’s is $90,447,000. The county sheriff’s office will receive over $15 million in FY21. We need to consider the combination of town and county expenses to get the full picture of our community’s investments in policing and other areas.
Outside of the operating budget, the town’s capital budget provides for the construction of a new public safety building to be located in the Midtown development. The building will house the Police Department in a visible location that is representative of community policing and accessibility for all, in addition to providing public gathering space. The community space will be a resource for scouts, arts collaboratives, support groups, and other local initiatives. Plans for the new building have been part of the town’s Capital Improvement Program for years.
Can the town reallocate funds to education, social services, or mental health?
The Town Council cannot reallocate funding toward education, social services, or mental health because, in Virginia, all those services are provided and funded at the county level. Since Blacksburg residents pay both town and county taxes, they fund a full spectrum of services – but from two different “pots.” Meaningful, holistic change needs to take place at the state level. The General Assembly has failed for decades to adequately fund mental health services or to provide sufficient resources to persons in crisis.
Where can I find more information?
Here are some additional resources: