‘Refund’ narrative is misleading, divisive

Editor, The Transcript:

As municipal election campaigns kick into gear, it is important to clarify the facts, particularly regarding the Norman Police Budget.

The “re-fund” the police narrative is misleading and derails our ability to have well-informed discussions about budget decisions.

The “re-fund the police” narrative is misleading because it implies that the police department was stripped of financial resources or defunded.

A simple look at City Budget books reveals that the police department was NOT defunded. You can find the adopted budget book at normanok.gov/your-government/departments/finance/budgets-and-reports.

The “refund” narrative gets the facts wrong. The Norman Police Department has maintained the dominant share (27%) of the City General Fund and received budget increases over the past several years. The adopted police expenditures continue to trend upward:

• Fiscal Year 2019 — $21,510,463

• Fiscal Year 2020 — $22,350,569

• Fiscal Year 2021 — $22,601,745

• Fiscal Year 2022 — $23,565,826

The “refund” narrative confuses the difference between proposed budgets and adopted budgets.

The police department anticipated that it would get an increase, which was proposed in the preliminary FY2021 budget.

Council, however, passed a budget that did not provide for the anticipated increase in police expenditures. There is nothing to refund because the increase was never approved.

The “refund” narrative detracts us from having meaningful conversations about public safety needs.

Meaningful conversations would focus on what role we want police officers to play in public safety. Do we want the focus to continue to be on traffic safety, or do we want their efforts focused on other things?

Are armed police the best response to mental health crises calls, or should crisis response emergency teams be led by social workers and other mental health professionals?

The “refund” narrative also derails meaningful conversations about public safety funding.

Only after we clarify the role that we want police to play in public safety, can we determine the amount of resources needed for various public safety departments. The “defund” narrative does not address the crucial issue of figuring how much funding the Police Department requires to provide the desired level of public safety.

We all want a safe and peaceful community. Candidates who promote misleading and emotionally charged narratives undermine our ability to work together for all of Norman.

Let’s ask candidates, especially those running on “refund” the police platform, to clarify what roles they think the police department should fill (traffic, crime prevention, crisis response, etc.), how much more funding that will entail and how we will find additional funding in the already tight budget.

Your vote matters. Municipal (and school board) elections are Feb. 8.




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