Councilmembers at Tuesday's city budget meeting
Members of the Norman City Council conduct a session regarding Norman Police Department funding on Tuesday. (Kyle Phillips / the Transcript)

After an 11-hour meeting, the Norman City Council decided Wednesday morning to reduce the budget of the Norman Police Department by $865,000.

Following this decision, The Transcript reached out to each city council member and Mayor Breea Clark on how they feel about this decision and to explain how they voted.

Considered amendments  

First Amendment: Transfer $300,000 from patrol to community outreach and programs with reserve balance to be held in general fund — approved unanimously.

Second Amendment: Reduce salaries and benefits in the Norman Police Department general fund by $235,000 to provide for the implementation of an internal auditor program. Approved 7-2. Voting against: Joe Carter and Bill Scanlon.

Third Amendment: Reduce salaries and benefits in the Norman Police Department general fund by $330,000 to community outreach and programs with reserve balance to be held in the general fund. Approved 8-1. Voting against: Joe Carter.

Questions

Question 1: Why did you vote the way you did?

Question 2: What actions do you hope to take moving forward with the funds that have been set aside?

Answers

Mayor Breea Clark

1. This reallocation was not an effort to abolish or punish these public servants. We are excited to take the next steps in redefining what policing can and should be in 21st century Norman. These budget amendments reflect an intentional effort to tackle systemic racism in our community and to be proactive as opposed to reactive in meeting the social service needs of our residents.

2. I plan to look at what other cities are doing in terms of similar programs, communicate with Norman residents on both sides of the issue, and move forward with hiring the diversity and equity officer who will be instrumental in assisting to implement these changes.

Kate Bierman, Ward 1

1. I voted for the $865,000 reduction in funding for NPD out of recognition that the scope of problems NPD has been required to respond to has widened to an untenable level and to refocus the areas most needed. I don’t think anyone disagrees that officers do not need to be the ones to respond to water leaks or basic welfare checks.

2. For the July Oversight Committee that I chair, I will kick off the discussion about how to structure a citizen response team that can field these kinds of calls that do not require an immediate, armed police response. There are excellent, nationally renown programs we will review and gather feedback from the community about what they would like a program to do.

Joe Carter, Ward 2

1. It was all over the absurd concept of “defunding” the police. All over a spur-of-the-moment amendment to the budget to eliminate 64 police officers. This life-threatening debacle went on until 4 in the morning. The very council members that screamed for social distancing had no concern for public health. The same council members that preached to me two years ago when I joined city council to not legislate from the dais made amendments by the seat of their pants.

2. Do police need more deescalation training? Yes. Do people need to feel safe? Yes. Do people need to not fear the police? Yes. It was never more apparent than Tuesday night. I hope the council reconsiders its decision. Council can change its mind. This discussion regarding policing needs to continue in a thoughtful way. In a way that benefits our entire community.

Alison Petrone, Ward 3

1. I voted no to the first amendment proposal ($4.5 million cut) because it seemed punitive to the NPD in nature and mostly unrelated to evidence-based reforms. I voted yes to the other amendments because they balanced the interests given by wards, while not cutting next year’s police budget. NPD will still enjoy an almost 3% budget increase compared to last year after adoption of the three amendments.

2. It is my hope that the council approves a policy to implement independent annual mental health evaluations and follow-up treatment for police officers who may suffer from PTSD and other commonly suffered work-induced mental distress conditions. It is time to remove the stigma for PTSD of our first responders, just as this country has worked hard to do so for our military service members.

Lee Hall, Ward 4

1. There were a series of votes taken to amend the budget on Tuesday night. I voted against the first amendment to cut $4.5 million from a $31 million police department budget that would have resulted in the loss of 64 positions within the police department and allocated funds for other purposes including stormwater, sensitivity training and adding an internal auditor position. Taking into consideration the need to meet public safety expectations coupled with the recognition that not everyone in our community sees this through this same lens the amendment package did not address the need for a redistribution of resources that were clearly expressed by many in our community during the meeting and over the past several weeks. I voted in favor of the two amendments to fund a community outreach program to begin to address the need for social services and support for those in our community that have been overlooked or not heard. It is time redefine what the priorities of modern-day policing should look like and what functions can be better served by using existing resources in a new way. I voted in favor of creating an internal auditor position that would report directly to the City Council to give us an alternate way to look at transparency and accountability across all funds.

2. It will be important to make decisions about how these funds are spent by listening to those voices who represent the diversity in our community before any decisions are made as to what the needs are. This will take place at the oversight committee in July and in other spaces where this dialogue will continue. Steps to hire diversity and equity officer are already underway.

Sereta Wilson, Ward 5

1.  I voted to add money to our community in the form of outreach programs, instead of police officers.

2. After talking at length with a Norman public school child advocate this morning, I got really hopeful that we could make her program more robust in some way. There are other programs that I would like to see handled in non-police ways, such as mental health and addiction responses. Much of what I heard Tuesday (from the audience) was changes for young people such as those with autism and mental health situations. I don’t have answers to what that program would look like.

Bill Scanlon, Ward 6

1. … My regret is on the next-to-last vote of the night, before the whole budget thing the last $300k which was taking money from these unfilled manpower slots and that going outside of the police department I intended to vote no but I voted yes because I hit the wrong button, it was just stupidity... The one transfer funds from one cop account to another I’m not too worried about that I was rationalizing that as a little bit of appeasement... The first vote of $4.5 million was an easy no vote and the third amendment, the internal audit slot, I voted no because there was no position; we might not have the position for over a year, I voted no because we’re taking money out of cops and it’s going to sit idle.

2. The amendment I intended to vote for that money, (Kate) Bierman talked about wanting to move that too, but we never went back and amended that amendment so that money stays with the cops. There are programs, community outreach programs like coffee with a cop, I think all of those are worthwhile doing and we can spend money there. The budget is a dynamic document, we’ll be amending that thing all year. 

Stephen Holman, Ward 7

1. The police department budget is our biggest expenditure in the city, and they are one of only three departments that have a dedicated tax to help supplement funding. Looking at budget positions that don’t have people in them and we were in a very difficult budget time already before COVID, it’s very hard to justify subsidizing the (public safety sales tax) fund out of the general fund to the tune we were looking at. Especially if it’s to pay for positions that aren’t filled with anybody.

2. We do have a lot of social service needs in Norman and from the overall city budget what we spend or dedicate to those things is a fraction of a percent of the overall city budget currently… We have a lot of nonprofits here that really try to do a lot of good work in the community and the city of Norman does some, but a city like this, with the resources we have, I have always thought should be able to do more. We do have a proposal on the ballot in August to construct a new, unhoused resource facility, we have $5,000,000 budgeted for that that the voters will get to decide on. So some of the funds could end up going to those programs or staffing a facility like that.

Alexandra Scott, Ward 8

1. I believe in what I said. I was the only councilor who came back to the special session with an amendment. It was absolutely necessary to hear the voices of an underrepresented population and we heard those voices and it completely validated my reasoning for why I brought that amendment.

2. With the auditor position, I would really love to see more accountability when it comes to police overtime. Because while we have a budgeted amount set aside for overtime, the overtime is excessive compared to what we have budgeted. There’s not a whole lot of actual transparency or accountability surrounding that… The second part to that, aside from that one direct action, community outreach is great but community policing whenever we talk about that it’s people who are actually familiar with their neighborhood and their communities stepping up being leaders and having the actual locals step up and policing their communities.

Editor's note: For more context, this story was updated with the full quote provided by Lee Hall, Ward 4.

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