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Norman cuts $865,000 from police budget amid calls to defund

June 17, 2020 GMT

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — The Norman City Council voted early Wednesday morning to slash $865,000 from the police budget following hours of intense debate during a meeting that city leaders rescheduled last week after mounting calls from protesters to defund the police.

The council passed three amendments to cut about 3.6% of the Norman Police Department’s $23 million budget.

City spokesperson Annahlyse Meyer said $630,000 of the money will be reallocated to community development programs and $235,000 will be used to create an internal auditor position to track police overtime and outlays.

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City leaders acknowledged that discussions got heated during the 11-hour meeting that ended around 4 a.m. Wednesday.

“It’s important that everyone gets a chance to speak their truth. Everyone has stories that they have been carrying around and wanted to share and participate in this discussion,” City Council member Kate Bierman said. “And it’s really important that as a public body, this is the people’s hall and they really deserve the opportunity to speak one after the other for as long as necessary.”

Early debates centered around council member Alexandra Scott’s proposal to reduce the Police Department’s budget by $4.5 million. Police officers and their families subsequently bemoaned the prospect of 64 police positions being taken away.

“I don’t know that taking a hatchet to the Police Department budget is going to solve the problem,” Bierman said of the proposal, which didn’t pass.

For two consecutive weeks, the council discussed a proposed $281 million spending plan that would include allotting roughly $23 million to the general fund for police operations. But council members postponed a vote after protesters took issue with how they would distribute the money to police.

Members of the group Norman Citizens for Racial Justice have called on police Chief Kevin Foster and council members to address “police violence and accountability and systematic racism in Norman” by defunding and demilitarizing the Police Department and eliminating the school district’s school resource officer program.

The group suggested alternatives that include unarmed mediation and intervention teams, decriminalization of poverty and nonviolent crimes, transformative justice programs, and better access to mental health services.