CINCINNATI — Hundreds of people spoke before Cincinnati City Council Tuesday night about the 2021 budget set to be finalized in the coming weeks.
The comments at Duke Energy Convention Center, which hosted hundreds of people spaced apart and wearing masks, marked the first of three public hearings.
These hearings are usually about agencies asking to maintain or increase their budgets, but the vast majority of people who spoke asked for a specific budget cut. They want the city to defund the Cincinnati Police Department, with many wanting it dismantled entirely.
#HAPPENINGNOW Public hearing for the City of Cincinnati’s 2021 budget begins. Here’s how hundreds of concerned citizens speaking out looks in the time of COVID-19. The room holds 500. pic.twitter.com/kfbeZBjgHw— Kristen Swilley (@KristenSwilley) June 16, 2020
A $74 million citywide budget shortfall in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, plus a proposed $1 million increase for Cincinnati Police, prompted widespread calls to defund the police.
“It is time to fundamentally rethink what public safety means without occupying Cincinnati with ill-trained, violence-inciting officers and stop responding to social, emotional, domestic and mental health problems with brutality and mass incarceration,” said one commenter Tuesday.
Many of the first few speakers are calling for the reduction of CPD’s budget, suggesting the money could go to social services, parks and other departments facing potential cuts amid the approx. $74 million dollar budget shortfall.— Kristen Swilley (@KristenSwilley) June 16, 2020
Police found some support in the crowd.
“When you’re saying defund the police, as an African-American, what is your alternative to funding and policing African American communities?” another commenter asked.
But that notion was drowned out by the overwhelming desire to transfer the millions of dollars the department sees each year to social services.
“Replace the police response to wellness checks and domestic violence calls with a wrap-around social work response, full funding of five investigators at the Citizens Complaint Authority,” one commenter suggested.
Council members made it clear the final budget may look very different from what was proposed.
“We’re here to listen to you and then make the final budget by June 30,” Councilman Chris Seelbach said.
The next public budget hearings are Thursday from 4 p.m. to midnight and Friday from noon until everyone is heard.