SACRAMENTO COUNTY – Despite calls from the community to rethink its law enforcement spending, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously last week to approve a $6.4 billion budget for the fiscal year 2020-2021, including fully funding the Sheriff’s Department.

The vote came after a marathon, two-day budget hearing during which nearly 100 local residents called in to express concerns and another 1,000 commented via email and written letters to Board members.

Many callers urged the Board to adopt “The People’s Budget” that was created by a collaborative of community-based organizations and called for officials to invest in community needs and address the root causes that lead many people, disproportionately Black and Latino, to be incarcerated, rather than giving the sheriff’s department more money.

“Sacramento’s budget should reflect our community’s values and be responsive to our needs,” the group said in a statement. “Budgets are values in action. Unfortunately, past budgets have been inequitably distributed to the sheriff’s office instead of investing in proactive measures for shared safety, and the budget released by the County CEO fails to take into account the incredible needs of our community in this historic time,” the statement continued.

During the Sept. 8 hearing session, District 1 Supervisor Patrick Kennedy said, “It’s a penny wise, pound foolish to just look at incarceration without looking at getting people out and keeping them out of the criminal justice system.”

The budget vote comes on the heels of a controversial decision by an internal committee, led by County executive Nav Gill, to give the majority of federal CARES Act money, $104 million, to law enforcement entities including the Sheriff’s Department, to “free up the budget and avoid cuts to services.”

While representatives of The People’s Budget weren’t physically present at the County Board meeting, they held a morning press conference prior to the September 9 session and issued the following statement: “Contrary to what the defenders of the status quo are saying, the People’s Budget values emergency response resources. Our coalition is not asking for a cut in funding for fire or emergency responses. We are asking for the funds that were taken from CARES Act and given to the Sheriff be restored to actually address COVID effects on families and small businesses, no less than 33 percent of the general fund must go to human needs and health services, and the $17.8 million in budget cuts must come out of the Sheriff’s department, who currently receive 37 percent of the total general fund.”

Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones gave a slideshow presentation in which he showed headlines from around the country in order to back his position that crime and chaos come as a result of defunding law enforcement spending. Jones’ presentation included photos of burning police cars and American flags. He said he wanted to provide a “counter balance” to all the calls that would be coming in, speaking out against the proposed budget, his department, and his leadership. The presentation, he said, wasn’t meant for “shock value,” but rather, to provide “factual context” to the discussion. During his presentation, Jones took a dig at Black Lives Matter, listing the movement as a proponent of defunding law enforcement and then saying “no one of consequence wants to defund policing.”

Jones did have support. A number of callers said his department “deserved more” money to do its job, urged Board members not to bow to current public outrage and spoke of the “detrimental effects” cutting his budget would have on the local region.

Greater Sacramento NAACP President Betty Williams called in to urge the Board to fund Jones’ request to purchase body cameras. Ms. Williams said the veteran civil rights organization has been demanding body cameras for those working in the County Jail for years. She called the purchase “long overdo.”

“Sacramento NAACP is inundated with calls that involve law enforcement use-of-force and the number one complaint is actually coming from the Sheriff’s Department asking the NAACP to retrieve videos to prove their innocence and there is none,” Ms. Williams said.

“We at the NAACP would like to propose to work with the sheriff to create criteria that include policies, procedures and also incorporate transparency and accountability. They should not be left to do this on their own. We need the tools to allow us to help others that are calling to prove their innocence by showing a video,” she continued.

The budget includes $2.1 million for equipment, monitoring and management of body cameras for all patrol deputies, watch commanders and sergeants, the Special Enforcement, Major Crimes and Gang details, deputies assigned to the Elk Grove School District and Regional Parks rangers. Future phases, and funding, would outfit deputies and security officers assigned to Regional Transit, Folsom Dam, Security Services, the Courts and Corrections. Discussion also included the possibility of funding 200 body cameras for the Probation Department.

Numerous public commenters pointed to what they called a history of cuts to public health in favor of the Sheriff’s department. Some questioned why the department gets so much consideration when it has reportedly cost area taxpayers more than $116 million in settlements for lawsuits regarding wrongful deaths and claims of excessive use-of-force and inhumane conditions in county jail facilities.

A great deal of focus during the hearing was also given to community demands to have the Sheriff’s Department change how it responds to homeless and mental health calls. Such calls often end up with deadly consequences when the person involved is Black or Latino.

Sheriff Jones said he was open to the creation of a viable plan.

“I’ll be the first to tell you that I’d rather not be in the responding to the homeless business, I’d rather not be in the responding to the mentally ill business when there’s no crime that’s been committed,” he said.

Supervisor Phil Serna noted that while he was voting in favor of Jones’ budget, he wanted to go on record with opposition to his plan to purchase a $500,000 armored Bearcat military-styled vehicle.

“I am just philosophically opposed to outfitting our law enforcement with military vehicles these days,” Serna said.

Serna said the budget hearing was the Board’s lengthiest in recent years, spanning 11 hours over two days.

“It was not easy this year and I think everyone should prepare that next June is likely to be even more challenging,” he said.

Serna ended the hearing with a vow to create, along with Kennedy, a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. The resolution would need approval by the other members of the Board to be adopted.

By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer