SUBSCRIBE NOW

Activists call to defund police, but how much money do they actually receive?

Amanda Parrish
Middletown Transcript

MIDDLETOWN -- As protests on police brutality swept the nation after George Floyd’s death, some activists have called for the defunding of police departments.

The idea doesn’t necessarily mean eliminating the police — although some have called for that — but it rethinks public safety, reallocating money from police budgets to social services and mental health services in an effort to reduce crime.

It’s not just a national movement, but also one that has hit Middletown. At the Black Lives Matter and George Floyd rallies in June, some speakers called for defunding and police accountability.

Middletown created its police department in 2007 and has continued to grow due to the rapidly rising population. Funding for the police has steadily increased since 2015, mostly for additional officers.

The town expects to spend more than $6 million on the police department in 2021, accounting for about 12% of the town’s overall budget.

Police budget

In July, Middletown Mayor and Town Council approved the fiscal year 2021 town budget for July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021. The police budget rose from $5,735,393 to $6,261,334, a 9.17% increase.

The budget has risen between $100,000-$500,000 every year, which includes salaries for new officers, salary raises and new equipment. Since 2015, the funding to the police has risen by more than $2 million — a 60% increase.

“That's not a shock when you consider each employee is around $100,000 a year because we give full benefits and 401(k) and everything,” Mayor Ken Branner said. “Most of that goes into salary.”

Between 2015 and 2021, the Middletown Police Department budget increased by 60%, or $2 million.

Salaries, benefits and pensions account for about 80% of the budget.

Branner said one council member is assigned to each department to determine the budget along with the town’s financial manager, the mayor and a supervisor from the department.

Council members combine their budget for each department and present it at a special public meeting in late June where community members can comment. It is approved at the regularly scheduled council meeting in July.

According to the Urban Institute — an economic and social policy research think tank — state and local governments spent about $115 billion on police, which is about 4% of their direct general expenditures.

Javonne Rich, ACLU policy advocate, said the nonprofit is asking state and local officials to discuss diverting funds from the police and investing it in schools, fair housing, healthcare access and community programs.

She said having data on how many stops they make, how many arrests they make, what they make arrests for and how much money they make from tickets and citations is vital to making decisions on police budgeting.

“I think that each locality needs to decide what is best for their police budget and that can be discovered through transparency,” Rich said. “Having this information is valuable because it would allow policy makers like the mayor and the public to make an informed decision about what the funding should be and what the capacity of the police department should look like.”

Middletown police released a 2019 crime statistics, which includes arrests and traffic citations from 2018-19. It did not include any demographic information on arrests.

Branner said the police have been proactive in police accountability as one of the first departments in the state to mandate body cameras. He said they have used them since the department opened in 2007.

“We keep all the recording and film from that. It's a huge expense, but it helps the public know that our officers are being filmed and also helps our officers know that as long as they do [everything] right, it's on that video,” he said.

Police spend about $50,000 on ammunition, weapons and equipment, accounting for about 1% of the budget.

Rich said the ACLU did not have a comment on what role the police should have but said the nonprofit is advocating for more counselors instead of paying for more police officers.

Although the overall police budget has gone up, funding went down in their SWAT operations from 2018 to 2019. Branner said the officers asked to disband their SWAT team two years ago because there was not enough need for it. Police used to get $20,000 for SWAT operations.

He said there is a lot of rigorous training involved with SWAT and it didn’t make sense for them to have one when the Delaware State Police has operations they can call to use if necessary.

“Understand, I would support a SWAT team tomorrow if they came back and said they wanted to do it, but it's a huge undertaking for those on SWAT. It's a personal commitment for a lot of time,” the mayor said.

The town still budgets $2,000 for protective equipment in case Middletown police are called for backup.

Policing ‘a complex endeavor’

Police Chief Robert Kracyla declined to comment on the budgeting of the police department, but wants to educate the public on what the duties of the police department are.

Middletown Police Chief Robert Kracyla spoke at a George Floyd prayer and protest June 7.

“Policing now has become a complex endeavor. Policing requires you to be a mentor, a psychologist, a counselor, [and] a doctor. There are all of these different spin-offs of what people think of traditional policing,” he said. “We are dealing with mental health issues, we are dealing with people in crisis, and dealing with people who are homeless, we are dealing with all of these societal problems on a lot of different levels.”

As activists call for putting these responsibilities into other social services, such as mental health or drug and alcohol counselors. Kracyla said it’s a great approach in theory but doesn’t think it would work in practice.

He said he has seen some models that combine these services that are effective.

“I think if they have to go into a high risk environment, they are still going to want the police,” Kracyla said. “If there is a call to an area that is a high crime area, a lot of emergency responders are nervous going there without a police escort. I don't know if you would be able to separate them.”

No plans to defund police

Branner said he has no plans to defund or disband the police department.

“I don't think there is a clear message on what defunding means. Some people think it's doing away with the police department other people think it means to take money away from the police department and give it to other nonprofits,” he said. “But we support areas that are nonprofits in our budget now.”

The town gives about $35,000 for “public services,” according to the budgets. Branner said the town donates to The Volunteer Hose Company of Middletown, the MOT Senior Center, the Middletown Main Street Foundation, Middletown Historical Society and Our Daily Bread.

De-escalation and bias

Rich said Black and brown communities are targeted and arrested more often than white. Kracyla said police are required by the Delaware Council on Police Training to be trained in mental health and social working skills, but he thinks they need to go above and beyond the minimum standards to fix racism and brutality.

He said there are two critical components to policing in 2020 that his officers should be trained in: de-escalation and bias.

Middletown Mayor and Town Council banned police chokeholds and required more de-escalation, implicit bias and diversity training.

Since George Floyd’s death, Kracyla said he has had frequent group discussions with his officers about police brutality and profiling.

“We want to create an environment here to feel free to come in where they can respect each other's opinions and they feel comfortable bringing their ideas and their concerns forward,” he said.

As part of the push for accountability, Rich said the ACLU is advocating for banning the use of police chokeholds, but Delaware has already made strides.

Middletown’s resolution prohibits “knee holds, choke holds, and similar acts of applying pressure against the trachea, windpipe, carotid artery or jugular vein that restricts the individual’s breathing, against anyone within the Town of Middletown.”

Police would be allowed to use this method if they believe the use is necessary to protect the life of a civilian or another law enforcement officer, and all other control methods have been exhausted. Officers will be disciplined or discharged for those who use an “extreme act of force.”

On June 25, Gov. John Carney signed an executive order banning the use of police chokeholds for all state law enforcement agencies, including Delaware State Police and Capitol Police.

“Talk is cheap. It’s on us to make progress,” Carney said in a statement from June. “These are the first steps that we can take administratively to improve the relationship between law enforcement agencies and communities of color in Delaware.”