NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – The City Council adopted the 2020 municipal budget during a public hearing that included several calls to divert money earmarked for the police department to social and recreational programs.

About $20 million of the roughly $95 million budget has been appropriated for the police department. Of that $20 million, about $18 million will go to pay the department members’ salaries and benefits.

The other $2 million is set aside for things such as equipment and training.

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Ten or so residents spoke out before the five-member council approved the budget, voicing concerns from systemic racism to over-policing to overpaying the police.

Many echoed the call to have money diverted from the police to hire social workers.

Jordan Alderman, citing a Washington Post article, said that 80% of 911 calls do not require the presence of a police officer. She said that other municipalities have deployed social workers as “a go-between” bridging residents in need of mental or behavioral health help and police.

“Even just coming out of their training to become a police officer, they have a pretty intense bias towards using violence over just talking to people,” she said. “And the officers who had this place felt safer, there were fewer arrests, there were fewer violent incidents.”

Haley Sklans referenced the fact that the 2020 budget does not include money earmarked for the police department to expand its ranks, a point that was brought up at a previous council meeting. That’s not enough, Sklans said, considering the police and the criminal justice system “further enforce system white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, ableism and many more forms of oppression.”

“As you create and approve of present and future city budgets, we demand you invest in protecting and enriching the community,” she said. “That necessitates defunding, not reforming, the New Brunswick Police Department through actions such as no new hires, terminating employment and pensions for all officers who use excessive force and demonstrate bias and canceling the purchase of militarized weapons that have the potential to be used against the community members. 

“Protecting and enriching the community means investing in community-led programs centered on de-escalation, conflict resolution, first aid and self-defense. It means investing in unarmed professionals such as domestic violence workers, social workers and mental health experts.”

The defund the police movement has grown louder in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Floyd died on May 25 in Minneapolis, after a white police officer pinned him to the ground by kneeling on his neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds.

It has sparked debate and caused a political and ideological chasm in many spots around the country. President Donald Trump has spoken out against those who would defund local police departments. In Los Angeles, the second-largest teachers union has gotten behind the movement. In Fort Worth, Texas – the 13th largest U.S. city – voters approved the continuation of a tax that provides funds for the local police.

In New Brunswick, two or three residents voiced their concern that the police department is amassing an arsenal of military-grade equipment such as infrared technology, telescopes, unmanned vehicles and a truck costing more than $100,000.

Capt. J.T. Miller, the public information officer for the department, clarified that the truck would be used as a rescue vehicle during one of the frequent flood and the unmanned vehicle was a one foot by one foot vehicle that could be sent in to perform reconnaissance in dangerous situations.

Another resident chastised the members of the police department for drawing large paychecks but seemingly not earning them.

“They’re getting too much money being paid what?” Danielle Moore said. “Just to ride up and down the street, to chill out in parking lots, having conversations to each other?”

At last month’s City Council meeting, the budget was introduced with the promise of no increase in municipal taxes in an attempt to help residents – many of whom lost jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The average property owner, defined as an owner of a property assessed at $270,900 would pay $2,838 in taxes, according to a press release from Mayor Jim Cahill’s office.

“Look, a lot of folks are struggling,” Cahill said. “People have lost their jobs, lost hours of employment, lost income from a lot of different sources. And while that hasn’t happened to everybody, it’s happened to enough people. So, I wish we could do more. Nevertheless, that is holding the line on taxes and keeping them flat allows us to maintain all the essential programs we need to provide for the safety and protection of our residents. “