Oklahoma City’s police union president says the optics of cutting funds for five officers “are not good.”
The Police Department’s proposed fiscal 2021 budget would eliminate funding for five currently vacant sworn positions, saving $419,625.
The proposed cut comes just two years after the city council won voters’ approval of a quarter-cent sales tax increase by promising, in part, to add 129 officers.
“Here we are two years later and talking about cutting officers,” said John George, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 123.
“That has the appearance of breaking that promise to the voters,” he said.
While the proposal is to cut funding for positions that are authorized but unfilled, it would have the effect of reducing the pool of money available for saturation policing.
Money budgeted for positions the department struggles to fill is spent on overtime for extra patrols in crime hot spots (the VIPER program), gang enforcement, Bricktown patrols, and to meet mandated minimum staffing levels.
In 2018, the department spent nearly $6.8 million on overtime and, in 2019, more than $8.8 million, according to city records.
Noting the chief’s staffing study, last updated seven years ago, said the city needs more than 1,300 officers, George said the city council ought to be adding positions each year.
He said $1 million is sufficient to add 10 officers per year. Doing so could avoid the trap of playing catch-up as the department has for more than 20 years, he said.
Ward 8 Councilman Mark Stonecipher, who co-authored the council’s 2017 statement of intent promising to fund 129 more police officers, said the budget process is in its “very early stages” and questions about how it will be resolved are premature.
Like other departments, police got budget instructions for fiscal 2021 on Dec. 19.
Department heads were told to find “operational efficiencies” to close an anticipated gap between revenue and expenses.
An update went out Jan. 13 after budget managers concluded the shortfall would be $3 million greater than expected. Budgets were due Feb. 3.
Most departments were told to reduce their base budget, after accounting for salary increases and other factors, by 2.25%. Police and fire were told to find savings of 0.3%.
For police, that meant cutting $500,000 in expenses from the general fund, the primary account for day-to-day services.
The police chief has proposed closing most of that gap by paring funds for five officers.
Plans are to save an additional $39,600 with the end of a contract to pay half the director’s salary at the Oklahoma City Family Justice Center and $40,775 on the electric bill at the soon-to-be-demolished former police headquarters/Municipal Courts complex.
The police department has 1,234 sworn positions, not counting Chief Wade Gourley. As of last week, 1,087 of those positions were filled and 147 were vacant.
In his budget proposal, Gourley said 52 recruits remained in the current training academy as of Jan. 31. New academies will begin in April and December.
In arguing against cutting funds for sworn positions, George said the uniform ranks could be close to authorized strength by June 30, 2021, when the next fiscal year ends.
“There ought to be a better way to do it,” he said.