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Police funding squabble livens up Jacksonville budget vote

Proposal had been floated to defer half of sheriff’s budget.

By a 17-2 vote, the Jacksonville City Council was able to pass a $1.34 billion budget Tuesday night, but not before some sharp critique of spending priorities and a spotlight on unresolved issues of race, class, and public safety.

A group pushing for a “people’s budget now,” a document that would cut the almost $470 million in proposed police spending to 20% of the budget, predominated in public participation ahead of the vote.

Though polling by the mayor’s political operation shows that only 23% of voters support police funding cuts, speakers from that position brought hours of critique to the Council.

Ben Frazier, president of the Northside Coalition, demanded more money for disadvantaged areas to come at the expense of law enforcement.

“If you don’t get it from [the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office] … you need to figure out where to get it from,” he thundered.

By the third speaker, City Council President Tommy Hazouri and floor leader Scott Wilson offered admonishments to avoid personal attacks on Council members. And by the third hour, Hazouri urged those commenting to “say something new.”

The narrative was familiar and unchanging: Critics charged the JSO with myriad failures, ranging from racially disproportionate treatment and a perceived lack of accountability for officers to a low murder clearance rate.

The commenters went unheeded, in terms of tangible results, as the closest thing to their agenda got withdrawn: a doomed-to-fail floor amendment from Councilman Garrett Dennis that would have put the second six months of the fiscal year’s Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office budget “below the line.”

Ahead of the vote, Mayor Lenny Curry threatened to veto the budget in the unlikely event the Council agreed to the condition.

LeAnna Cumber and Finance Chair Matt Carlucci wondered why the proposal wasn’t floated during the August budget hearings rather than on budget night.

Some waxed poetic about their affinities for law enforcement, with one Republican bemoaning “the defund the police movement coming here.”

Others lauded Dennis for setting up a conversation about race, law enforcement, and a confluence of factors that have created ongoing distrust between much of the city and the people who govern them.

“We need to move forward on some solutions,” urged Council President Tommy Hazouri. “The bottom line for all of us is public trust.”

The local tempest about public safety funding is a microcosm for a larger push on the state level to crack down on jurisdictions seeking to “defund the police,” as well as enhanced protester penalties that many Democrats see as an assault on civil rights.

Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed a “citizen and taxpayer protection measure” this week, which would block state grants and aid to local governments cutting law enforcement budgets.

The Governor eyes a Special Session in November to pass the legislation, which appears to be a model proposal for other Republican states.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at AG@FloridaPolitics.com

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