Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston said Sunday that city officials are looking into reallocating some of the Police Department budget, amid calls for reforms as protests opposing police violence against Black Americans continue.
“We are going to look at the police budget, certainly, and reallocate some of it,” Walsh said in a live TV appearance on WCVB-TV.
In recent days, some Boston city councilors have vowed to use the upcoming municipal budget process to force changes in the Boston Police Department. Police spending makes up about 15 percent of the overall city budget.
“We’re going to have real serious conversations about some of the reforms that we put in place when I became mayor in 2014.... I think there’s an opportunity for us to reallocate some of that money, whether it’s into training or to community involvement,” Walsh said during a Sunday interview on WCVB-TV’s “On The Record.”
“I think that just arbitrarily cutting the budget is not the answer,” he said.
“If we’re making cuts and reallocating money into different parts of our budget,” he said, “what are those programs — and are they going to make a difference?”
Boston has been the scene of mostly peaceful protests against police violence over the past week, triggered in part by the May 25 killing of George Floyd while he was in the custody of Minneapolis officers.
But on May 31, looting and mayhem followed several orderly protests in Boston.
Walsh said he is focusing on the issues raised by peaceful demonstrators.
“The issue is about real structural change in government, and structural change in society,” Walsh said, labeling the violence as embarrassing. He said peaceful protesters have made it known that such behavior isn’t welcome during demonstrations.
“That is not the message that the protesters certainly want to put out there, and that is not the message that I think that we have to react to,” he said.
Walsh said he spent much of the past week “talking to Black people who work for me and Black people in the city of Boston, and consistently, the story is the same: They talk about their interactions with police officers, and how it was bad. They talk about the lack of opportunity.”
White people, he said, “need to listen.”
As Massachusetts gets set to enter Phase 2 of the state’s plan to reopen the local economy, Walsh cautioned that the coronavirus pandemic continues to be a public health threat.
Although progress has been made across the state in reducing the numbers of new deaths from the coronavirus and new cases, Walsh said attention has shifted away from the disease, particularly in the wake of nationwide protests opposing police violence against Black Americans.
There have been 660 deaths and nearly 13,000 cases of COVID-19 reported in the city as of Saturday, according to the Boston Public Health Commission.
The pandemic continues to have an economic impact on Boston: Officials will need to cut about $60 million to $80 million from the city budget because of the virus, he said.
Walsh asked people to continue wearing masks, and follow health guidelines like practicing social distancing. The city handed out thousands of masks at the recent protests, he said.
“My concern is that we’re going to have a second spike . . . and that will have long-lasting impacts,” Walsh said.
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.