Group of College of Charleston professors call for police budget cuts

Updated: Oct. 26, 2020 at 11:28 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - There is another call for the Charleston City Council to remove $5 million from the police department’s budget for the next fiscal year. This time the call is coming from academia.

A group of 46 College of Charleston faculty members signed a letter urging city leaders to adopt the recommendations made by the Charleston People’s Budget Coalition.

In the letter, the educators say the city has made positive steps in addressing its “legacy of slavery and racism” and cites examples like the removal of the John C. Calhoun statue from Marion Square.

“These gestures have been welcomed by the community, but they are not enough. As educators and scholars at the College of Charleston, we are calling on our elected city leaders to rethink Charleston’s approach to public safety,” the letter reads.

The recommended changes would move the $5 million from the police department to other areas like affordable housing, opportunities for youth, infrastructure, wages and direct investment in racial justice programs.

City Council Member Harry Griffin says the city is already addressing those issues and there’s no need to taking funding from the police budget.

“We are moving in the right direction, but we would be doing a disservice to our people to pull officers off the street,” Griffin said. “We have to get rid of this idea that pulling money out the police department will help other areas. It’s going to create such a burden, and it won’t do enough in those other areas.”

Mayor John Tecklenburg also suggests cutting the police department’s $53 million budget is unnecessary.

“It’s important to note that we’re already funding the priorities they’re requesting at historic levels, with a $50 million affordable housing fund, a $22 million bike-ped bridge for the Ashley River, over $150 million in resilience and flooding projects currently underway, and an employee minimum wage with a total value of $21 an hour including benefits,” Tecklenburg said in a statement. “In short, we’re investing in better policing and a stronger community at the same time, and that’s a win-win for all of us.”

The ACLU of South Carolina is part of the group that created the Charleston People’s Budget Coalition. Executive Director Frank Knaack says the police need to justify why they need nearly a quarter of the city’s total budget.

“The police have been very good about perpetuating the myth that police make our communities more safe. Police are fundamentally a reactive organization. They don’t prevent crime they react to crime,” Knaack said. “There is no correlation between the number of police in a community and crime rates.”

For Knaack, the $5 million dollars is just a reasonable steppingstone in rethinking how policing is done altogether. He believes the current system creates inherent injustices.

“We know that black people and white people use marijuana at roughly the same rate. Just in the first six months of this year alone, black people were 6.2 times more likely to be arrested by CPD than white people. That is a ridiculous racial disparity,” Knaack said.

Griffin acknowledges there are problems in the police department.

A bias audit of the department was completed last year and steps are being taken to address areas of concern. But Griffin says a blanket cut would mean fewer officers which could threaten the revenue needed to fund issues like affordable housing and infrastructure.

“We as a city and as a region are growing daily," Griffin said. "We can’t afford to take officers off the street. We have to be looking at making sure we have an adequate number of officers to provide not only for the people that live in the city – 141,000 strong – but the 7 to 8 million people that we get a year in visitors. We were able to put $30 million in our general fund last year. That was strictly from tourism. If people don’t feel safe, Charleston is not going to be a desirable place for people to come.”

The faculty members who penned the letter were not doing so as representatives of school. The administration put out a statement neither directly supporting or rebutting the call to reduce police funding.

“While the faculty who authored this letter do not speak on behalf of our institution, the College of Charleston agrees that addressing economic, environmental and social disparities requires new solutions,” read a statement released by the college. “We want to thank the Charleston Police Department and all law enforcement agencies for protecting our communities and safeguarding the rights of all citizens to peacefully express their opinions.”

The city council will be discussing a budget for the 2021 fiscal year in the coming weeks. Griffin says a new budget must be approved before the end of the year.

The letter the 46 College of Charleston professors wrote to city leaders can be read below.

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