Budget battles continue in Norman for City and Police

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NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR) – Another half-million dollars could be reallocated from the department to a help with mental health services.

Tomorrow night, the Norman City Council will vote on whether or not to take $500,000 from the Norman police budget next year to help establish a mental health response center.

That possibility has both police and residents sounding off.

“The simple fact is another budget cut reduces the number of officers we have and that makes it unsafe for everyone,” said Robert Wasoski of the Norman Fraternal Order of Police.

Members of the Norman Fraternal Order of Police are speaking out on the proposed $500,000 dollars of their 2022 budget that could be set aside for mental health help.

Last year, Norman Police say they lost nine positions in their department thanks to the City Council voting to take close to $865,000 away from the 2021 Norman Police Budget.

“Make no mistake, This town is less safe than it was a year ago. we simply don’t have enough officers patrolling our streets and investigating crimes and any further cuts would be devastating,” said Major Chad Vincent of the Norman PD.

If passed Tuesday, the Norman City Council proposed budget amendments would set up a mental health crisis response unit that would help officers by addressing non-violent emergencies.

“With this action of a mental health crisis unit actually helping to reduce the number of police that would be needed, it only seemed natural that it would come from the police budget,” said Norman City Council Member Brandi Studley.

Some Norman residents agree.

“We haven’t see an increase in danger in the way that the police force has threatened. Reallocating funds to help the community reduces crime,” said Norman resident Larla Turner.

Norman Police say they are being punished for the crimes committed by other officers around the country.

The Norman Chief of Police Kevin Foster releasing a statement recently saying,

“Disparities exist in police department data across the country, and our department is no different. I want to ensure all of our citizens that the Norman Police Department is working hard every day to keep our community a safe and enjoyable place for all people to live.

Since 2016, we have released our departmental data through our Open Data Portal. Transparency is and will remain a priority for the Norman Police Department. To that end, we are currently working with partners at the University of Oklahoma and the Center for Policing Equity to evaluate these disparities and identify what steps we can take to improve services.

This country has a long history that has led to many different outcomes, and we understand that.  However, to jump from the belief that some disparities within the profession means all law enforcement must be racist and should be abolished is wrong. We have some of the best officers in the country working here in Norman and they do not deserve to be villainized and treated in that manner.  

Due to the current situation, I am truly concerned about our ability to continue to recruit a diverse group of top-tier applicants to the Norman Police Department.  I am just as concerned that many of the great officers we currently have may leave for other locations where their jobs will be more secure and they have more opportunities to succeed. I am truly sorry that it has come to me having to send a statement like this, but I cannot stand idly by and watch this happen. As always, I am happy to discuss these issues with anyone. I love this community and thank you all for allowing me to be the Chief of Police here.”

“I think that that is just a bruised ego maybe making that statement I don’t feel like its an accurate statement. We are trying to help the Police by offering them some relief,” said Studley.

But officers say another cut would further reduce numbers.

They say they need 90 patrolling officers to do their job. Right now, they only have 75.

They say there are ways to find a solution, but they have never been let into discussions with city leaders.

“I think we could come to a possible resolution, but we need to be included in the conversion,” said Wasoski.

The Police budget vote is slated to take place tomorrow night in Norman.

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