Hundreds gathered at Norman’s Municipal Building Tuesday evening for the City Council’s budget meeting, ready to voice their opposition to or support for the lineup of proposed amendments to the FY22 city budget.
By press time Tuesday, the council had yet to vote on the most contentious amendment to the city’s fiscal year 2022 budget: An proposed reallocation of $500,000 from the Norman Police Department’s proposed budget increase. The amendment would redirect the money from the NPD budget toward a mobile crisis response unit to respond to behavioral health calls.
Members of Unite Norman filled the chambers to capacity around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, two hours before the meeting was scheduled to start. Many attendees were barred from coming into the council chambers or the Municipal Building due to capacity restrictions, though everyone who was registered to speak during public comment was allowed in.
A total of 253 people — most in support of the NPD — filed into the Municipal Building, filling it to capacity to make their voices heard. Nearly 500 more — also mostly NPD supporters — had to wait outside the building. The meeting was noticeably different from 2020’s budget meeting, where advocates for reallocating police funding outnumbered those in support of the police.
“I think the [amount of people here] certainly proves a point,” said Robert Wasoski, president of Norman’s Fraternal Order of Police. “I think the people that don’t support us are a very small number, and that people who do [support us] are the majority. It’s evident from this meeting, which is very, very different from the meeting a year ago, that we do have a lot of support. I think that [Norman] realizes that taking money from our budget is not only gonna hurt the community, but it’s hurting the officers.”
Caleb Creed, a Norman resident and member of Red Dirt Collective, said people are misconstruing requests to redirect $500,000 from NPD — a budget amendment presented by Ward 1’s Brandy Studley — as a “anti-police” motion, when in reality supporters of the amendment are not all anti-police.
“In my view, this is not an anti-police action,” Creed said. “In my view, this is a reasonable way to handle mental health cases because it actually takes a load off the police. My feeling is that the people here who are pro-police but anti-us are not understanding what we’re saying. Their misunderstanding is not an accident — there’s false narratives about what our views are and what we feel [going around].”
Many residents in attendance said they believe the NPD needs this money, and urged the council not to reallocate the funding.
“I think that if the council [makes the cut], it would pretty much demoralize police at this point in time,” Norman resident Cheryl Pierce said. “That’s why you see so many citizens out here now, is because we are all very concerned of what our council is doing to our city, and it’s not a good message to be sending.”
Cynthia Rogers, an economics professor at the University of Oklahoma and Norman resident, said that she believes the amendment is not hurting police, but will benefit them by taking unnecessary work off their plate.
“It’s not good for individuals in crisis to have the police handling those situations and right now, that’s the go to,” Rogers said. “All we have are people trained in use of force, and control to deal with people who you’re not going to control.”