Gainesville Police Department’s increase in funding this year has community members divided.
The Gainesville City Commission approved a $220,000 increase to GPD’s $36.33 million budget, bringing it to $36.55 million, on Sept. 11, totaling to 26% of the city’s overall budget.
This decision follows after protesters rallied against increasing funding and a summer of nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died May 25, after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes.
Some local activists are unhappy with the city commission’s approval of GPD’s budget increase, while others want GPD to continue funding local youth programs.
Since 2011, GPD’s adopted budget has increased by $5.18 million.
About $100,000 of this latest increase is for mental health specialists and three teachers at the Reichert House, an education program for at-risk youth, said Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe. The rest of the money is for police body cameras.
Values represented in the city should be representative of the budget, Poe said. It’s why the city is focusing on mental health, education and decreasing the number of officers.
“There’s valid voices on all sides,” Poe said.
GPD will buy about 300 cameras, said Assistant Police Chief Terrence Pierce.
“Everyone’s being issued one from the chief of police on down to the newest rookie,” Pierce said.
The cameras will ensure that officers are following GPD’s policies, like use of force, he said. Residents can request footage on the GPD records website.
Jhody Polk, an activist who founded the Jailhouse Lawyers Initiative, said she doesn’t believe body cameras will change anything if the court system isn’t reformed. Polk said the body cameras don’t instill trust in GPD.
“Body cams cannot be protective if you do not have a protective court system,” Polk said.
The $220,000 increase isn’t enough for adequate changes in the police department, she said, so the money is wasteful. This amount isn’t even enough for Polk’s organization of eight members, so she said she can’t imagine how it would help GPD.
As an East Gainesville resident, she said the community and its youth have had negative relations with police long before the Black Lives Matter movement.
However, some residents support GPD’s funding increase.
Doris Edwards, a 73-year-old activist and East Gainesville resident, said she has come to trust and value GPD. She believes GPD made a difference after getting involved in her neighborhood by frequently checking up on children and adults and attending neighborhood watch meetings, she said.
Edwards has collaborated with GPD for more than 25 years through her neighborhood watch at Lincoln Estates. As a Black resident, Edwards said she has witnessed how GPD has helped deescalate dire situations.
“If I could triple that money, I’d do it in a minute,” she said.
Edwards said about six weeks ago police used their crisis intervention team to help a man with mental health issues. The man remained calm, went to Meridian Behavioral Healthcare and later came back to the neighborhood.
In the past, the man would have gone to jail, Edwards said.
GPD’s youth program Reichert House has saved lives, she said. Little boys she has met became police officers after the program.
“When you can have a bunch of young men, especially in the area that I live, that can go up and talk with another teenager that's having an issue, that's golden,” she said.
Manu Osorio, a 24-year-old Dream Defender and 2017 UF economics and political science alumna, said she was disappointed in the budget increase because the commission put more money into the problem.
To Osorio, those who won’t hear their cries for change are willing to live in the same world with the same issues.
“This isn't going to end,” she said. “We're gonna continue asking for change.”
More than 70 people gathered Sept. 3 to protest Gainesville City Commission’s proposed increase to GPD’s budget.
Asta Hemenway is a third-year senior majoring in Journalism. Born in Tallahassee, she grew up Senegalese American. When she’s not writing or doing school, she loves watching Netflix and Tiktok in her spare time.