The Sacramento Police Department gave a presentation on their proposed 2024 budget at the May 16th City Council meeting. The budget would be an $8.5 million increase from 2023, and overall features very few significant changes or shifts in PD priorities. This is a predictable but disappointing request, and seems likely to be approved, though there are a few reasons for optimism. Here’s an overview of what went down in the meeting.
Below is a slide from SPD's presentation on their overall budget & request for more money
The police presentation was an unbearably boring hour of various cops listing off a multitude of statistics without any context and presenting them as achievements. The sheer dullness of this presentation may not have been intentional but it certainly served to disguise a whole lot of nefarious copaganda.
Setting The Record Straight
Crime Prevention and Reduction
Multiple police officers spoke about “reducing crime” at various points during the presentation, but did not provide any actual evidence of them doing so beyond pointing to an apparent decrease in violent crime so far in 2023. However, there is decades of very clear evidence that spending on police has no correlation with crime rates.
Some cops made the more specific point that, through the Office of Violence Prevention, they have had some tangible impacts on violent crime. This is true to an extent, but a) the OVP has only been under the Police Department since 2022, b) the actual work being done here is mostly done through community non-profits, the police just administer grant funding to them, and c) a number of particularly effective community groups were cut out of this grant funding because they were being forced to work with police.
The Facts: when crime rates go down, police will take credit and argue that their budgets must increase as it is proof of their effectiveness, but when crime rates go up, police will cite that as proof that they are underfunded and need more resources. However, police are reactive by nature; in the best case their function is to solve a crime after the fact, and any efforts to reduce crime need to target the root causes (poverty, racism, poor health, etc).
Do cops actually solve crimes?
The police were mostly very careful to avoid any mention of “clearance rate”, a term which basically means “how many crimes lead to arrests”. They only brought it up in the very narrow case of homicides committed between January and May of 2023 - there were 10 total homicides during this period, and they “solved” 8 of them. This 80% rate isn’t bad, until you zoom out a bit and look at the actual overall solve rate of Sacramento PD.
As noted by Keyan in his public comment, in 2021 Sacramento police made arrests in 2395 out of approximately 19000 cases, which is only about a 12% clearance rate - and that doesn’t even factor in the crimes which were committed but not taken up as cases by the police department!
The Facts: The public certainly expects the police to solve crimes, and it is supposed to be one of the primary functions of a police department. However, the data consistently shows that most crimes go unsolved; even violent crimes, the highest priority for solving, have been solved less than half the time, both historically and in the present day. For more thorough details, check out this Reuters article from last year.
So what do cops actually do?
According to their presentation, the vast majority of the Sacramento police budget is labor costs - that is, paying their employees. Out of the $228 million being asked for, $211million is listed as “employee services”.
You might be saying, “Well, what does that mean? That seems incredibly vague and meaningless.” Congrats, you’re completely correct! However, the police do not provide a more specific breakdown of how the money is spent.
Some specific programs have some detail - for example, the Shot Spotter program (a piece of tech which can theoretically detect gunshots in an area) has 12 officers who are assigned to respond to activations, so we can infer that some amount of money is going towards responding to gunshots. However, per the PD presentation, the shot spotter officers frequently get reassigned to handle other calls, and of course regular patrol officers also spend time responding to gunshots, so it’s difficult to disentangle exactly what these officers spend their time doing unless the police are willing to provide more specific data.
This pattern holds true across the rest of the department as well, preventing any transparency into what we’re actually paying all these officers to do.
This proved frustrating for Councilmember Mai Vang, who asked PD
what percentage of their budget actually goes toward crime prevention efforts. Unsurprisingly, the police were unable to give an answer
- Similarly -
Councilmember Katie Valenzuela was interested in diving deeper into call data from the police dispatch call center, to see what sorts of calls police are actually responding to, but the police didn’t have an answer for her either
The Facts: Despite a lack of transparency in Sacramento, there is some data available. The New York Times published a piece in 2020 looking at data from various places across the country, including Sacramento, and the findings didn’t make the police look great:
the amount of time 'devoted to handling violent crime is very small, about 4 percent'
Instead, 51% of their time was spent responding to non-criminal calls and traffic issues, and a further 18% was spent on “proactive” calls, which means it was initiated by an officer directly, rather than by a call made to the dispatch center. According to the Sacramento PD’s presentation, these officer initiated calls can include “Traffic stops, observing traffic hazard, viewing crime in progress, being waved down by a community member” but there’s no information given about how it’s split between those categories.
The Right To Remain Silent
One common thread throughout the meeting is that the police were either unwilling or unable to answer basic questions that they absolutely should be able to answer, given how much money they’re asking for.
The following are all questions that they were directly asked by councilmembers:
Katie Valenzuela asked for a more nuanced breakdown of call data to try and see how police are actually spending their time, and more importantly see if there’s room to reduce the number of calls police actually respond to. The police couldn’t give an answer (eventually City Manager Howard Chan said he would work with PD on getting better data, but his track record on being responsive to requests from the City Council is, to put it nicely, not great)
Caity Maple asked for data about the effectiveness of the Shot Spotter program, and in particular how many false positives it was generating, to see whether it was an actually worthwhile expense. Police had no answer
Mai Vang asked what percentage of this huge budget was going towards crime prevention. Police could not answer
Both Mai Vang and Katie Valenzuela asked about the potential for freeing up some money by eliminating some of the massive number of vacant positions in the budget (there’s nearly 100 of them). Eric Guerra also asked about this, though he did not make any statements in support of freeing up funding in this way. Police sort of answered, claiming that the money budgeted for those vacant positions was being used to pay mandatory overtime, which was necessitated by the fact that so many positions are vacant. But it’s not clear why the overtime is “mandatory”. No mention was made of any law requiring them to have certain staffing levels, so it’s reasonable to assume that the only thing “mandating” overtime is their own internal policy, which can be changed… of course, the police are never going to admit to that
Katie Valenzuela broached the possibility of increasing funding for the Department of Community Response along with shifting some of the calls currently going through the police call center over to DCR instead. At the mere suggestion of this, City Manager Howard Chan jumped up to play defense for the cops, and insisted that DCR's budget absolutely was not going to change this year, and that more broadly any changes were going to take time
The cops sure have a lot of nerve asking for so much money when they’re unwilling to offer basic transparency to the very people who are supposed to give them that money. Fortunately, members of the public did not stay silent. Outside of a brief disruption from our local Nazi nuisance, 21 Sacramentans made their voices heard, and overwhelmingly opposed this absurd giveaway to the police.
Some notable comments include:
Four members of the local non-profit Public Health Advocates used their comments to essentially give a mini-presentation, going one after the other - a creative way to circumvent the absurd and authoritarian 2 minute comment restriction (see full video of their comments below). DeAngelo, Mara, Kristina, and Ryan used their time to offer their services as data analysts that wouldn’t cost the city anything. They have done incredible work in analyzing past data from the police call center, and they have available grant funding to continue to do so, meaning they could provide much-needed transparency without increasing the police budget
A number of people who work in violence prevention non-profits showed up and made an impassioned plea for more violence prevention funding (see videos below). Currently the police administer a $1 million grant spread across 8 non-profits (which doesn’t include some historically very effective groups such as Advance Peace and Healing the Hood). These groups are tremendously effective and it’s a disgrace that we offer them so little funding
Comment from Barry on the need for funding for violence prevention programs
Comment from Freddie on the need for funding for violence prevention programs
Community member Keyan Bliss made a really tremendous comment where he did a lot of the basic math to demonstrate exactly how inefficient the police budget really is (see video below). A number of other community members added to this point, and clearly stated the demand from the People’s Budget Sacramento, which is a baseline $50 million reduction in police funding
Below is a bonus comment from PJ explaining how the cops don't actually do the things people expect/want them to do!
There Is Still Hope
It is hard to know exactly what is in the hearts and minds of the city councilmembers, but it seems likely that this budget will pass without too many changes. Still, there are some reasons to hope.
Katie Valenzuela, Mai Vang, and Caity Maple all have very clearly signaled a willingness to reduce the police budget right now. Unfortunately that’s only three votes, not five. Both Darrell Steinberg and Lisa Kaplan were at least rhetorically supportive of shifting some funds away from the police towards alternative public safety measures, but both also echoed Howard Chan’s insistence that changes weren’t going to happen within this budget cycle. Still, there is some room for public pressure there.
There are two pieces of progress that stand a much higher chance of being included in the police budget, however: both an increase in funding to the grant money distributed through the Office of Violence Prevention, as well as the notion of partnering with Public Health Advocates for data analysis, were openly supported by Mayor Steinberg.
More violence prevention funding was
also supported by both Rick Jennings and Sean Loloee, so some form of that is likely to pass, and public pressure is important to make sure it’s done correctly and doesn’t end up being another giveaway to the cops. As for the PHA partnership, it’s not totally clear where every councilmember stands, but it is a relatively non-controversial proposal and, more importantly, it’s totally free, so perhaps we may see better and more useful data in the future.
In any case, no final budget decisions have yet been made. June is budget month, so stay tuned to the City Council meetings if you want to make your voice heard!