Harrisburg’s mayor on Tuesday defended his proposal to add positions to the city Police Bureau, despite numerous public comments critical of increasing the department’s budget.
At the city’s first budget hearing on Tuesday night, Mayor Eric Papenfuse and members of the bureau explained how new non-uniformed positions would improve community relations, but numerous residents who submitted public comments disagreed.
Papenfuse has proposed investing more than $1 million in new civilian positions within the bureau. This would include the creation of a dozen “community service aides” who would assist the police with routine tasks, as well as foster relationships within the neighborhoods where they are assigned.
“One of the things we focused on, especially over the past months, was listening to the public and the feedback we received,” Papenfuse said during his previous budget presentation. He said that his administration wants to “restructure” the police department with a more robust community services department.
However, on Tuesday, some Harrisburg residents argued that the positions actually would be detrimental to the community.
“They may be civilian positions, but within the police department they would still uphold and carry out the violent and racist work of policing,” resident Amanda Arbour said in a public comment.
Other residents expressed similar sentiments, suggesting that funds would be better allocated to creating affordable housing or assisting tenants facing eviction due to the pandemic. Some demanded that the Police Bureau should make public certain documents, including ones with demographic information on those arrested and the police contract, before receiving any funds.
Deputy Chief of Police Deric Moody said that the bureau is preparing a new system that will make sharing police documents more accessible.
A proposed records management system manager position, part of the new funds proposed for the bureau, would also help with handling reports, Moody said.
In another effort to increase accessibility, the budget accounts for purchasing cell phones for each officer, as well as business cards, so that they can be directly contacted by residents.
In addition, the city hopes to hire two co-responders to work alongside officers who would bring greater expertise on mental health disorders. These city-funded positions will add to the one co-responder, already in the city, who works through a Dauphin County program.
While council members didn’t necessarily object to the proposed increase in spending for the Police Bureau, some expressed concerns. For instance, they wondered if it would be beneficial to have a more balanced number of co-responders and community service aides.
“I feel like a lot of people in the community feel like we need more people to co-respond,” council member Ausha Green said. “The [community service aides] sound more like police liaisons.”
Other proposed positions in the bureau include:
- Technical Services Manager
- Director of Community Relations and Engagement (Community Policing Coordinator Blake Lynch would likely fill this roll)
- Body-Worn Camera & In-Car Video Manager
- Community Policing Substation Manager
- Captain-Community Services Division (Lt. Milo Hooper would likely fill this roll)
- Captain-Technical Services Division (Lt. Todd Abromitis would likely fill this roll)
Adding to the increased budget for the bureau are 20 officer positions that are currently vacant.
“We are budgeting for those positions to be filled even though we know full well that we are not going to be able to fill all those positions,” Papenfuse said. “That’s just proper budgeting.”
Council members questioned whether those funds could be reallocated to other community needs, knowing they will most likely go unused.
“I don’t think it’s an either-or,” Papenfuse said. “I think we can address community needs in the budget, we are, […] but it doesn’t necessarily have to be redirected in that way.”
City Council will continue its two-day schedule of budget hearings on Wednesday night. A vote on the 2021 budget will follow later this month.
To watch the first City Council Budget Hearing, visit Harrisburg’s YouTube channel.
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