At the June 16 City Council meeting, Norman City Council opted to try something different. Our actions made it clear that we, as a community, don’t have to settle for the status quo because “that’s just always how we’ve done it.” Considering the budget approved for our City for FY 2021 was $264,413,701, we decided to take a relatively small first financial step in looking at how we can evolve our policing in a way that will improve quality of life for our residents while simultaneously improving the quality of the profession for our police officers. The numbers speak for themselves, so I want to provide some basic information on the budget, the changes that were made, and where we go from here. 

NPD has a budget of $30,957,788, which is higher than last year’s budget. The $865,000 in question was taken from the NPD’s proposed budget for FY 2021 and made up a whopping 0.003% of the city’s overall budget. Even with that change, NPD’s budget is still higher than last year’s budget by over $104,000. In terms of staffing, our police department has had anywhere from six to 22 unfilled positions for the last two years. What we are experiencing is not new. What is new is an opportunity to reimagine how we deliver services to those in crisis while re-examining the role our police should play in that process.

So where is this $865,000 going to go? A total of $235,000 will be added to the city manager’s departmental budget to implement an internal auditing function. The internal auditor can assess business systems and operations independently and objectively to help the organization accomplish its goals and objectives by bringing a systematic and disciplined approach to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of risk management and governance. For the City of Norman, an internal audit position should be able to provide both management and council with reports, analysis and recommendations on methods, policies and procedures to reduce waste, improve transparency and ensure our efforts achieve their anticipated objectives. 

The remaining $630,321 has been reserved for “community outreach programs.” Over the past two months, many Norman residents have taken the time to research successful “community outreach programs” from around the nation and shared their findings with us. One that was repeatedly sent to Council, which is particularly relevant given the size of the city and the fact it’s home to a state university, was the CAHOOTS program in Eugene, Oregon. The Oversight Committee explored this 30-plus-year-old program in detail at its most recent meeting. I want to commend Councilmember Bierman for taking the time to contact a councilmember in Eugene to get such helpful information.

While this isn’t the only option available to us, and we certainly want to do what is best for our city, it does provide an excellent starting point for conversation. I have created a task force with over 50 participants that include residents, city staff, law enforcement officers, nonprofit organizations, governmental agencies and other community partners. We are exploring other community outreach programs and policing reform ideas. Whatever we come up with will supplement the work of the Norman Police Department, not replace it.

What we are talking about is reforming policing, not police reform. Our officers have my full support. While I want to see improvements in recruiting and training, what this funding and this process are hoping to improve is policing itself. For too long, we have asked our police officers to be everything to everyone in every situation. After looking at the programs previously mentioned, there is no question that we can begin working to change that. We know that $635,000 will only get us so far as we work to make these important reforms, but it’s a start.

Our nation finds itself at a pivotal crossroads as we all experience the greatest unified call for criminal justice and policing reform that we have ever seen. As we reimagine what both policing and collaboration in providing social services can be in our city, I understand that this is an issue that people are very passionate about on both sides. I ask all Norman residents to listen to the facts, keep an open mind and imagine a better future for our residents and those providing services to them.

Clark, mayor of Norman, is director of the JCPenney Leadership Center in the Michael F. Price College of Business.

 

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