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Houston rejects effort to reallocate $12M in police funding

June 10, 2020 GMT

HOUSTON (AP) — Houston City Council on Wednesday denied an effort to reallocate nearly $12 million from the Houston Police Department’s upcoming budget to fund sweeping police reform and other measures.

Houston Councilwoman Letitia Plummer proposed redirecting the money to fund several measures, including strengthening a police oversight board by giving it investigative powers, enhancing police de-escalation training and creating a program that would provide no-interest loans to minority-owned businesses.

But City Council voted against Plummer’s proposal to include the measures in Houston’s fiscal year 2021 budget, which begins on July 1.

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Also Wednesday, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg has dropped prosecutions of 786 criminal cases against Black Lives Matter demonstrators arrested for nonviolent misdemeanors, such as obstructing a highway and trespassing.

Another of Plummer’s proposals — to use funding from one police cadet class to pay for the creation of a mental health mobile response unit to help police with non-threatening lower priority calls — was referred to a council committee for further study.

The debate over police funding in Houston mirrors similar ones that have taken place across the country following the killing of George Floyd. The black man died last month after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck, pinning him to the ground. Floyd, who grew up in Houston, was laid to rest in suburban Houston on Tuesday.

Protesters have been pushing to “defund the police.” Supporters say their proposals are not about eliminating police departments or eliminating all police funding but about spending more on what communities need, such as housing and education.

As council members met on Wednesday, dozens of protesters rallied outside city hall asking for cuts in the police department’s budget.

Community activists have also called for more transparency from the Houston police department following six deadly police shootings since April 21.

The council on Wednesday approved a new city budget that increased the nearly $1 billion police budget by about $20 million, despite financial challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Plummer said her proposals were not about eliminating the police but about making officers’ jobs easier and having conversations about transparency. She said it was also about dealing with the root of the problem that has led to the death of Floyd and other black men.

“George Floyd died because of the end result. No one’s talking about the poverty that he dealt with,” Plummer said. “No one’s talking about how he was able to put food on the table. No one’s talking about how difficult it was for him to thrive in the community.”

Mayor Sylvester Turner and other council members said they supported some of the ideas that Plummer proposed but that they needed to be studied further either in committee or by a new task force that was announced earlier this month to review Houston police policies.

Turner planned to sign an executive order banning Houston police from using chokeholds and requiring officers to exhaust all alternatives before shooting. But he said he has also advocated for providing more resources to under-served and under-resourced communities in Houston.

“We’ve been on a forefront of that. It didn’t take a police shooting for that to be on our list,” Turner said.

The dismissals came after a week-long review to separate cases of simple civil disobedience from those involving harm to persons and property, Ogg said.

Of 654 persons charged because of the protests, 51 adults and one juvenile remain charged with active cases. Their cases include 35 misdemeanor charges and 19 felony charges such as weapons offenses and aggravated assault of a peace officer.

“We will always protect the First Amendment rights of peaceful protesters,” Ogg said. “The only people I will be prosecuting are those who intentionally hurt others and intentionally destroy property.”

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Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70

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