After pledging to reallocate $12 million of the Boston Police Department’s overtime budget to trauma counseling, homelessness programs and other community services, Mayor Marty Walsh said Wednesday he had no plans to make any more cuts from law enforcement funding.
“Not out of the police budget,” he told Jim Braude on WGBH News’ Greater Boston Wednesday. “It’s not just about taking money from one pot to another pot.”
The $12 million commitment — which he made Friday after declaring racism a public health crisis in the city — fell roughly $30 million short of some protesters' demands for a ten percent cut of the BPD’s entire annual budget.
The mayor said more funds may come from other areas of the budget.
“We’ve increased our school department budget by $100 million over the next two years that is going to new programming,” said Walsh. “The inequalities in our country and the racism in our country goes far beyond policing. It goes into health disparities, it goes into economic disparities, it goes into educational [ones].”
But the mayor did acknowledge a major shortcoming in the police department’s recent record on race: its continued use of the controversial stop-and-frisk policy. Newly released numbers found that in 2019, Black people made up one-quarter of the city’s population, but roughly 69 percent of stops. In the same year, white people made up nearly 45 percent of the population, but just a quarter of stops.
“I was shocked,” Walsh said about the disparity in stops, though he stopped short of pledging to ban the practice.
“This is work we have to do, there’s no question about it. It’s undeniable that we have work to do here,” he added.
The recent death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis policeman with multiple past complaints of excessive force has drawn attention to the role of police unions in protecting violent officers.
But Walsh, who previously led the state’s Boston Building Trades Council, said he would not work with the state legislature to prohibit police unions from negotiating on issues of discipline — a proposal that has been floated elsewhere.
“I think that becomes a slippery slope as far as taking people’s rights away, as far as organizing. I do think, though, that we have to have more open dialogue with the police unions about how we advance our police department moving forward,” he said. “I’m gonna leave that conversation to the legislature to decide.”
“I do think, though, that we have to have more open dialogue with the police unions about how we advance our police department moving forward,” Walsh added. “At this point in time, people aren’t viewing, necessarily, police unions across the country as a positive movement. And they do do good things.”
The mayor cited to a number of positive crime and policing metrics since he took office in 2014, including a 50 percent drop in complaints of excessive force.
Walsh also addressed his administration’s record on diversity in its taxpayer-funded contracts. In 2018, less than 1 percent of the city’s $664 million in contracts went to minority- or women-owned businesses.
“Certainly, in some cases, there’s a capacity issue. We don’t have contractors to be able to bid on some of this work, but that’s what we have to work on fixing,” he said. “This is a problem that goes back generations, probably from the beginning of the foundation of this city. And we have some real institutional, structural changes that we have to make and it’s incumbent upon me to push those through.”
Walsh also weighed in on the other public health crisis facing the city — the coronavirus pandemic — after crowds of people, many without masks, flocked to restaurants across Boston now open for outdoor dining over the weekend.
“Look at Florida, look at Texas, look at Arizona. Look at those places that closed down for a short period of time and opened quickly and that people aren’t social distancing and aren’t wearing masks and see what’s happening there, watch those numbers spike,” the mayor said. “That’s what I’m afraid is going to happen here in Massachusetts and in Boston.”