Waltham Councilor Attempts To Cut Police Budget

Jenna Fisher

WALTHAM, MA — A lone city councilor, following up on the city's Black Lives Matter resolution and community pushback on the police department budget, proposed cutting $1.1 million from the department's operating budget of $17,441,775 and was voted down Monday, as at least two city councilors took aim at her, lobbing personal attacks against her.

The recommendations came during a council meeting to approve the city's $185,378,007 budget, just two days after some 1,000 protesters walked from the Waltham High School to Leary Field. That march was in support of racial justice and leaders there called, as communities across the country have, for elected officials to demilitarize police, cut police budgets and redirect funds to social programs.

In Boston, Mayor Martin Walsh said he plans to cut $12 million from the Boston Police Department's overtime budget and allocate that for social programs. Brookline is considering a decrease of the police budget by 17 percent. In Newton the city is looking at a complete overhaul of the police department. All three municipalities have also praised their police departments.

Read more: More Than 1,000 March In Waltham Rally Against Racism

Although the City Council only has authority to cut, not redirect funds from a budget, Councilor Kristine Mackin of Ward 7 said her three proposed cuts from the police department were meant as a way for the legislative body to begin a conversation about priorities in public.

"This budget is a statement of what this city thinks is worth spending on. I’m making these cuts so that the community can see us debate it. That is our function as a legislative body. To have a debate," she said. "I’d like that money to be spent on food not firearms."

Mackin proposed cutting the $1.05 million police overtime budget, a $55,000 special line item for ammunition and the $14,500 contract for the NEMLEC.

Each of those cuts drew criticism from many of the other councilors, who took issue with taking from a police department they said they'd only heard good things about.

The police budget's proposal, like all departments, saw a 5 percent reduction this year from their original proposals, Councilor Joey LaCava of Ward 5 pointed out.

Mackin argued that the council has accepted something close to $5,000 in donations to provide food service to the community during the pandemic.

"There's not a single dollar in this budget allocated to feeding our community and we're capable of spending $55,000 on firearms and ammunition?" she said. "The discrepancy in the services we're providing is shocking to me. And I really feel that this budget does not reflect the values of this community and I'm attempting to make one small change to reflect what I believe is truly important."

$1.05 million budgeted for overtime

So far, in the current budget, the city’s expenditures when it comes to the police overtime are already more than $1.5 million. The year before, the city spent $1.7 million on overtime. This year the city also has budgeted an extra $50,000 for training for “potential liability issues.”

$55,000 special line item for firearms budget

In fiscal year 2019 the city spent $91,524 on firearms and ammunition, in the current budget they were budgeted for $65,000.

"This is not a training line-item," Mackin said.

Mackin argued that Waltham Police wouldn't be without guns or ammunitions, but would be able to still use their civil forfeiture fund of $6.9 million to purchase equipment in line with state guidelines, as needed.

$14,500 contract with NEMLEC

Mackin argued that a cut in the contract for NEMLEC made sense, in part because of the group's notorious secrecy. It wasn't until a lawsuit forced them, did the public find that the SWAT teams they provide use excessive force for routine police matters, she said.

"I recognize that many members of this council have never heard of excessive behavior from our police force, and I would encourage members of this body to go speak with marginalized members of this community — but NEMLEC is not the Waltham Police force," said Mackin.

Mackin noted that one of the key demands brought about by several youth-led demonstrations - which brought out hundreds - in the city was to demilitarize the police.

"Therefore I believe this budget cut is in line with what our youth led movement is asking for,” she told the council.

Personal Attacks

After asking her what she might do with the money instead, at least two councilors questioned why she, personally, was talking about using money for food when she hadn't attend the two city-run food pantries.

Kathleen McMenimen pointed out her own susceptibility to the coronavirus and noted that she still volunteered for one of the food pantries, while Mackin had not.

"In a time of need you were in your pajamas," said Councilor Anthony LaFauci of Ward 1. "So I'm not going to support this cut, nor any other that you mention."

Mackin responded that she had been forced to follow the governor's health recommendations and stay home when - both times - she was experiencing symptoms in line with the disease.

"I feel like the comments that are being made about me exceed the bounds of the kinds of personal attacks that are acceptable in front of this public body," said Mackin, choking up. "Additionally I'm not interested in discussing my personal medical information with this body as it relates to [me] experiencing symptoms during both of those food drives. ... We are all doing the best we can during a time of extreme stress."

Council President Paul Brasco acknowledged Mackin's pushback on the personal attacks.

"Your comments are duly noted," he said.

Thirteen of the councilors voted against the three proposed cuts. Councilor Jonathan Paz of Ward 9 abstained, saying his bigger concern right now was longer-term revenue shortfalls that the city could be dealing with for years because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"The state government is not acting to save towns and cities, and revenues are going to be decimated because of the coronavirus," he said.

READ MORE:

Patch reporter Jenna Fisher can be reached at Jenna.Fisher@patch.com or by calling 617-942-0474. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram (@ReporterJenna). Have a press release you'd like posted on the Patch? Here's how to post a press release, a column, event or opinion piece.

This article originally appeared on the Waltham Patch