Region’s budgets for police show warped values

Kendall Dix (Co-Chair, Upper Valley DSA)

June 29, 2020

This statement appeared as a letter to the Editor in the June 29 edition of the Valley News.

If you can judge a town’s values by how it spends its money, then the Upper Valley’s values are all out of whack.

Hartford is one of the more forward-thinking towns in the region when it comes to policing. Earlier this year, Hartford voters were the first to pass an ordinance that protects undocumented workers from police overreach. You would think their town budget would reflect this attitude toward prioritizing public well-being.

But in 2019, Hartford spent $3.26 million of public money on its police department, while spending just over $100,000 on community health, mental health services, low-income services, youth and adult services, and housing and community development combined. That’s 31 times more resources on enforcing laws against residents than services for people having financial or mental troubles.

In fact, nearly every town in the Upper Valley exhibits a similar tendency to fund police at the exclusion of social services.

Lebanon, for example, budgets $6.3 million for police and less than half a million on human services combined.

Hanover, in similar fashion, budgets over $3 million for police and well under half a million for health and social services.

There’s only one tool in the municipal toolbox that gets funded without question: the police, even though useful case studies, such as last summer’s New York Police Department “slowdown,” show that fewer police actually results in less crime.

Police are notoriously bad at responding to violent crime, especially sexual assault and domestic violence.

Every interaction with the police increases the chance that somebody will be hurt.

Police killings in Vermont doubled from the 2000s to the 2010s.

Despite what current budgets suggest, we know that the Upper Valley does care about public safety and supporting its most vulnerable residents. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent recession have shown that any of us could end up needing assistance to get through a hard time.

So if the Upper Valley wants its town budgets to reflect its values, it’s time to start re-funding social services and start de-funding the police.

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