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AZ House Panel Votes to Limit Local Action on Police Funding

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Howard Fischer
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Rep. Walt Blackman (Capitol Media Services 2019 file photo by Howard Fischer)

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- A House panel voted Monday to ask voters to bar cities from cutting funding for police and sheriffs or risk losing state aid.
Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, said the move is designed to blunt -- and outright prohibit -- calls to "defund the police'' and instead use some of the dollars on alternatives to sworn officers. He said experiments like that in places like Seattle, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. have shot crime rates sharply higher in those cities.
But that isn't just happening elsewhere. Closer to home, there have been council debates in cities like Phoenix about whether it makes sense to keep putting more and more money into law enforcement, especially in the wake of the killing of civilians by law enforcement officers.
Blackman's HB 2624 would do more than prevent cuts to funding. It actually would require cities, towns and counties to increase police budgets annually to account for both inflation and population growth.
And the teeth of the measure as approved Monday would be that the state treasurer would withhold state aid for communities that failed to hit their targets.
The measure now needs the votes of the full House and, eventually, the Senate.
But Blackman linked approval to HCR 2028, also approved by the committee, which would amend the Arizona Constitution to put in the new spending requirements. And that would give the last word to voters in November.
No one spoke against either measure. But Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, said he wants to be sure that this does not hobble smaller cities and counties who, faced with mandatory increases in law enforcement spending -- money that would have to be raised from local taxpayers -- are not forced to cut services elsewhere.
"This bill allows our law enforcement officers to keep our communities safe by not defunding the police,'' Blackman said, citing statistics from elsewhere. "Defund the police is a deadly mistake.''
Blackman, who is African American, said this isn't a racial issue, pitting the while majority against Black and brown communities.
"The perception is that those communities, in some cases, want police to be defunded,'' he said.
"I would tell you there is nothing further from the truth on that,'' Blackman continued. He said that minority residents in places like Detroit want more officers to provide public safety and protect against drug trafficking.
The measures also drew support from Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb. And he said the issue goes beyond whether he gets enough money from county supervisors.
"As the sheriff I'm in charge of the entire county,'' Lamb told lawmakers. But without the resources to patrol everywhere, he said he relies on the cities and towns to take the lead in their own communities.
"It's going to save our communities, keep our communities safe ,'' he said. "And it helps me as a sheriff.''
Blackman attempted to link the issue of funding to the recent incident in Phoenix where nine officer were injured in what started out as a domestic violence dispute that left both the suspect and his girlfriend dead.
"Do you think that that could have been preventable if Phoenix was funded properly?'' he asked.
"Could be,'' Lamb responded, adding "that would be conjecture to say that.''
But he said there are implications in not providing sufficient resources.
"When you cut funding, the law enforcement groups that go first are typically your street enforcement, going after people that potentially are habitual offenders, hard-core criminals,'' Lamb said.
"I don't know what this gentleman's background was that shot at the Phoenix police,'' he continued. "But it's possible they could have thwarted this had they been able to put units on (to go after) guys like this.''
Kevin DeMenna, lobbyist for Support Our Law Enforcement, said the measure and the spending increases would be mandatory. He said that even charter cities would not have the option, if this becomes part of the Arizona Constitution, to decide that some funds could be better spent on alternatives like mental health workers.

On Twitter: @azcapmedia

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