City Council Meeting

Protesters hold signs during a council meeting last June at city hall. The Norman City Council has proposed another cut to the police department’s budget request, which will be considered tonight.

NORMAN — A day before the Norman City Council is poised to consider the Norman Police Department budget, police and Norman residents advocating for policing alternatives made their voices and demands on the matter heard.

At a Monday press conference, the Norman Fraternal Order of Police’s president and members vocally disagreed with the City Council’s proposal to re-allocate $500,000 of the proposed NPD budget and invest it in a mobile crisis unit.

The council will meet at 6:30 p.m. today at the Municipal Building to consider the fiscal year ending 2022 budget.

“The decisions the City Council makes tomorrow could dramatically hurt our officers’ ability to keep Norman safe and secure,” FOP president Robert Wasoski said. “If more money is stripped away from the public safety budget, it will reduce resources that were already lacking to adequately protect the city.”

The money, if reallocated, would fund a mobile crisis response unit that would respond to mental health crises, offering an alternative to having officers respond to these calls.

On the other side of the debate is the People’s Budget Coalition, a group of numerous Norman community organizations calling on the council to fund a program called the Norman Compassionate Response Emergency Workers, or Norman CREW.

“The proposal outlines the many potential benefits of investing in unarmed, non-police crisis response, including significant cost savings, new entry-level job opportunities in the field of emergency medical services and most importantly, a reduction in violent encounters between police and community members,” the coalition said in a release. “The police-only model currently in place in Norman is expensive, and it is failing to meet our residents’ needs. We need a diverse set of responses to emergency calls in Norman that makes the best possible use of our limited resources by bringing the right professionals to the scene.”

According to the coalition’s proposal, CREW would be responsible for responding to all calls from hospitals when a patient is refusing medication, is in a crisis that warrants physical restraints, or when a patient’s physical health is being put at risk; responding to all domestic calls where the caller indicates the person is having a mental health crisis and responding to all calls indicating an overdose or potential overdose.

While CREW would be responsible for these issues, they could still request NPD intervention, the proposal reads.

“Crisis response teams may request NPD support in cases where there is a clear and imminent threat to a person present at the scene,” the proposal said.

While some argue that officers can already take a 40-hour course in Crisis Intervention Training to learn how to handle mental health crises, the coalition said this training is not enough.

“It should be common sense that 40 hours of CIT is not the equivalent of a trained health professional with specialized education and expertise,” the release said.

NPD officers said Monday the mobile crisis unit funding the council is considering will only hurt the community.

“We simply don’t have enough police officers patrolling our streets and investigating crimes, and any further cuts to the budget would be devastating,” NPD major Chad Vincent said. “[More cuts] would result in a drastic change in our ability to provide the police services that that community deserves. The citizens of Norman deserve better.”

NPD Major Jamie Shattuck said while the department would like to go to the table and figure out a way to better assist residents and implement a mobile crisis response unit, “we have not been invited to participate in these discussions.”

Wasoski also doubled down on Shattuck’s remarks, and said the department has been excluded from the budgeting conversation and was not asked for its input.

Mayor Breea Clark said this hasn’t been the case.

“Several law enforcement officers were on the mayor’s task force, where finding a different approach to residents in a mental health crisis was one of the recommendations,” Clark told The Transcript Monday.

Interested residents must register to speak at the Tuesday meeting via the city’s website.

Reese Gorman covers COVID-19, local politics and elections for The Transcript; reach him at rgorman@normantranscript.com or @reeseg_3.

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Staff Writer

Reese Gorman covers elections, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic for The Norman Transcript. He started as an intern in May of 2020 and transitioned into his current position as a staff writer in August of 2020.