Submitted by Edward Coleman
The Reno City Council has a $3 million increase for the Reno Police Department (RPD) as part of the upcoming budget. This is in the face of a COVID-19 pandemic that threatens to blow holes in the City budget for at least the next two years. It is not clear why the police need these additional funds when their budget alone consumes 34% of city revenue.
Based on a recent public policing forum to review the Guinn Report, the police have been unable to institute any of the minimal suggestions for transparency or data sharing the report indicated were necessary in over two years. They were given an employee evaluation and failed, yet the Reno City Council chose to give them a raise.
Crime in Reno
There are two primary categories of crime: property crime and violent crime. The FBI defines property crime as, “the offenses of burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson. The object of the theft-type offenses is the taking of money or property, but there is no force or threat of force against the victims.” The FBI defines violent crime as, “murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Violent crimes are defined as those offenses which involve force or threat of force.”
There is a perception the police are “catching the bad guys” but in Reno, that is not the case. According to the FBI, the violent crime rate has increased from 12% in 2005 to 21% in 2018. In 2018, nonviolent crime was 79% of the crime handled by police in Reno, based on reported data. If the police budget were evenly divided, violent crime in 2018 was just under $14 million out of a $66 million budget. They are spending much of their resources handling nonviolent crimes.
In Reno, the overall crime rate has fallen. All things being equal, we were paying $8,502.60 for each crime committed in 2018. This is for every reported minor property crime such as trespassing up to murder. The use of resources should be evaluated before increases are granted.
Defunding the Police: A Plan
We can defund the police in a systematic way and rebuild the department as one part of a system of community support. My plan would enforce fiscal and administrative compliance, determine baselines for future comparison, and reduce the number of officers and the number of instances the police interact with the public. As the police budget and officer numbers shrink, recovered funds would be channeled into social programs, healthcare, mental health, housing, and, where possible, educational programs. This would not be immediate, and defunding would occur over multiple budget cycles.
The RPD budget is out of proportion to the crime we have here. A good first step to correcting this would be to audit the Reno Police Department for at least the past five years. This audit should focus on unauthorized spending, misallocated expenses, accounting errors, and fraud, waste and abuse. Any misuse of public taxpayer funds would be used to reduce the upcoming RPD budget.
The following additional fiscal restrictions should apply immediately:
- Use taxpayer funds only to pay for policing activities
- Ban the use of taxpayer funds for public relations activities
- Conduct an annual audit
- Establish and apply a biannual rate of reduction for the budget
- Limit any claw backs to be in addition to the biannual reduction rate.
There should be data on whether the RPD’s policies are effective and how they are benchmarking them to measure success, and those should be publicly reported on a monthly basis. Unclear policies should be clarified, and all policies related to officer conduct and interactions with the public should bear penalties which are consistently applied for the officer and the department. An annual review would allow policies to be adjusted as necessary to curb the behavior they are intended to curb and root out noncompliant officers. Efficiencies in processes could also be realized, which could improve the overall operations. This should occur in conjunction with the annual fiscal audit.
The following additional administrative actions should be applied:
- A time study of officer activities should be conducted to see where time is being used
- A quarterly public forum to review policy and policing should be held with the Chief of Police
Policy Implementation and Enforcement
A set of policies to promote public safety and trust, and reduce contacts with the public should also be implemented. These policies should ban police officers from approaching certain classes of property crimes and all ticket-able non-vehicular related crimes while armed. Low-level ticketing offenses where there is no victim should no longer be pursued except in documented cases of continued noncompliance.
Duties police are not equipped to handle, such as most mental health issues, should be removed from their scope of duties. Internal investigations of police officers should be conducted by an outside independent entity. A strict background check should be implemented to root out and remove officers with racist and white supremacist connections/backgrounds.
The focus of how police interact with the public should be changed. Metrics should be established to measure outcomes from police interactions. For example, if a homeless person encounters the police, was their life improved by that interaction? We must reward the behaviors we want to see and set and enforce strict penalties for those we do not.
The following item should be considered:
- Where possible, officers who conform with outcomes-based policing should be rewarded.
Supporting the Public Good
Police do not reduce crime; they only react to it. Social factors such as unemployment are forces which drive crime and it’s been shown that connections to supportive institutions reduce crime. The funds recovered from audits and overall force reductions should be channeled into a combination of city operations and local non-profit organizations. The funds would go to supporting and establishing housing programs, mental health services, health services, increasing programs offered by the city for recreation/education, and other identified social services.
Defunding the police can lead to better outcomes for Reno. Crime in general is falling while violent crime, the form of crime the police should be reducing, is increasing. It is known that families which are supported thrive and become involved members of a community. When the factors which drive crime are attacked and reduced crime falls, and the police can better serve their role in this system by reducing the instances of violent crime in our town.
Edward Coleman has lived in Reno, Nevada since 2012. In that time, he has been a state employee working as the Quality Assurance Lead for the statewide National School Lunch Program providing fiscal and regulatory oversight to over $150 million in federal funds. He holds an MBA from Western Governors University and is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Business Administration with a focus on Finance at Northcentral University. Coleman is active in local politics, a fully trained tailor and designer, and a practitioner of Aikido.
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