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Boston City Council to debate police funding

Boston City Hall.
Boston City Hall.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

The Boston City Council is set to meet Wednesday afternoon for the first time as a group since some councilors vowed to force reforms of the Boston Police Department, as protests against police brutality and systemic racism have rippled across the city and country.

Several councilors are slated to challenge police practices including the use of military-like equipment, use-of-force policies, and the lack of a powerful civilian oversight board. But the recent calls to trim the police budget by at least 10 percent and reallocate those funds toward public health, education, and other community programs is likely to lead the conversation.

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The meeting is being held as Mayor Martin J. Walsh is planning to submit a new budget for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1. The mayor had submitted a draft spending plan in the spring, but Walsh is planning to propose a new budget that accounts for a mounting budget gap, of $60 to $80 million, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. And all eyes will be on the mayor’s proposal amid calls to redirect police resources toward community oriented programs.

“If we’re really serious about violence prevention, if we’re really serious about health inequities, we need to be serious about what we’re advocating for in this budget cycle,” Councilor Julia Mejia said Tuesday, during a public comment session, in which more than 60 area residents, from a diverse array of backgrounds, testified in support of redirecting police resources.

Mejia said the budget should serve as the council’s “value statement.”

“This is one of our biggest responsibilities,” she said. “If we’re serious about prevention, we should be funding youth jobs, we should be funding violence prevention strategies, and those dollars should be coming out of the public health commission rather than the [Boston police] budget.”

She said she will propose transferring state grants for local social services from the police budget to the Boston Public Health budget. She also wants to increase support for mental health and substance abuse disorder treatment, as well as for economic support for small businesses affected by the pandemic.

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Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, who had called for the city to declare a public health emergency over institutional racism in the city in March after running for election last year on a platform of social equity, added Tuesday that, “The data shows at this point when we talk about crime, when we talk about violence, when we talk about the parts of our society where we would really like to see reform, policing doesn’t get to the root of it, it deals with symptoms of it. But public health and opportunity deals with the root causes.”

“I think it’s important that this budget reflect those values, that we start to look at ways to really deal with issues those people have,” Arroyo said.

At a City Council public comment session Tuesday, residents from Jamaica Plain and Dorchester, white, Black, Asian, and Latinx, academics and young activists, were among those calling for substantial changes to the city’s police budget. Several put forward a demand: The council should trim 10 percent of the police budget, particularly from overtime spending. Councilor Kenzie Bok, chairwoman of the council’s ways and means committee, said councilors have received more than 5,500 e-mails from residents calling for an overhaul of spending priorities.

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Walsh, in a statement on Tuesday, called for "meaningful'' changes in the wake of widespread anger and sadness over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.

Over the weekend, Walsh indicated he is receptive to reallocating parts of the police budget, but he has yet to detail what that would look like. He held a news conference Wednesday morning.


Milton J. Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.