Philly needs more police, but not a bigger budget | Opinion

Philly has enough money to hire police. Whether the Kenney administration can manage that money is a different problem.

A sculpture depicting a uniformed police officer holding a small child in his arms, symbolizing the protective role of the police officer in the community. The statue is expected to be installed at the new police headquarters in the Philadelphia Public Services Building (PPSB) at 400 N. Broad St.TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

by Rebecca Rhynhart, For The Inquirer

Published Apr 7, 2022

Last week, Mayor Jim Kenney delivered his annual budget addressa continuation of the status quo without vision, ambition, or creativity. The proposed budget is disconnected from the biggest challenges facing our residents.

2021 was the deadliest year in Philadelphia’s recorded history, and as our homicide rate indicates, public safety is the most pressing problem we, as a city, must address. I’ve spoken with people scared to sit on their porches in the evening, walk home from the bus station after work, or let their kids walk to and from school. We all want to feel safe in the city we love, but our city government is failing at public safety. This needs to be turned around.

One way to address the problem is to have more officers walking the street. But this is not necessarily a question of insufficient budget funding.

The Police Department’s current budget includes funding for 480 vacant police officer positions. These funded positions could have been filled already, if not for recruitment issues.

The mayor’s administration must also crack down on officers who are taking advantage of injured-on-duty benefits. Recent reporting by The Inquirer revealed there were 652 officers on injured-on-duty claims, more than double the number in 2017. Officers who are abusing this benefit are robbing our Police Department of officers on the street and wasting funds that could be directed to other areas of the budget. This must be addressed immediately. Overall, the combination of vacant police positions and injured-on-duty claims means that there are at least 740 fewer police officers available for duty today than there were four years ago.

These issues, and questions around police deployment across the city, are why my office is conducting an audit of Police Department operations, which we expect to release in June. Our recommendations will help reimagine policing in Philadelphia. The Police Department was already the largest spending area in the city’s general fund budget before the mayor proposed a $52 million increase over the current year’s adopted budget. Most of this proposed increase is for collectively bargained wage increases. Beyond that, we should not throw more money into the department’s budget until we understand what will fix these issues.

Public safety is more than just policing. I believe a better budget should include significant investments in the neighborhoods most impacted by gun violence, as Councilmember Jamie Gauthier and I called for last summer. This would include funding for evening and weekend parks and recreation and library services. This kind of focused investment would help counter decades of disinvestment, intergenerational poverty, and systemic racism caused in part by historical government-sponsored practices, as highlighted in our report on redlining. The city should also put funds toward tackling the long-standing inequity in service delivery. Like my office’s report on trash collection showed, different neighborhoods get different quality of service delivery. It’s not right, and it must be changed now.

Investments like these could be funded with savings from better management of city tax dollars. Last year, my office estimated that the city could save $70 million per year if overtime costs were managed correctly. The mayor’s proposed budget does not include management initiatives to cut down on unnecessary overtime across city departments. I also outlined a plan last year for the city’s $1.4 billion of American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds, recommending that $550 million should be used for strategic investments in the most pressing problems facing our city: violence, poverty, housing, economic development, and health. Given the life and death issues facing Philadelphians right now, some of the ARP funds should be utilized now for these purposes.

The mayor’s proposed budget does not do this. Philadelphians deserve better.

Rebecca Rhynhart is Philadelphia’s city controller.

Published April 7, 2022

This article was originally published by the Philadelphia Inquirer and can be read here.

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