Charlotte, NC – Some city council members are in favor of cutting the police department’s Crisis Intervention Training budget in order to give themselves raises.
Charlotte City Councilman Braxton Winston requested that the city manager increase the salaries for the mayor and city council members during a meeting on May 22, WBTV reported.
“I would like to know what the county commissioners make in salary and I would like to ask that city council and the mayor salaries be put in line with what county commission makes,” Winston told City Manager Marcus Jones during the meeting.
City Councilman Matt Newton and City Councilwoman LaWana Mayfield asked if it would be possible to cut $1 million of the $2 million that had been set aside for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Training, WBTV reported.
Police departments across the nation have increased their Crisis Intervention Training for officers because of an increase in law enforcement having to deal with people experiencing a mental health crisis on a regular basis.
The goal is to teach officers the de-escalation skills to deal with people experiencing a mental health episode who may be threatening to harm themselves or others during a police incident, reducing the chances that the incident will end with a deadly use of force, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
But Mayfield asked the city staff to repurpose half of the $2 million budget proposed for the specialized police training for city council pay raises instead, WBTV reported.
“We have some other pressing needs, I think it should be $1 million,” Mayfield told the city council.
Charlotte City Council members earn a salary of $19,809 per year, plus another $8,900 in auto and technology allowance, according to WBTV.
But the city council positions are not considered full-time jobs and those elected are expected to continue having outside jobs, despite complaints from some elected officials that they don’t have time, according to the Charlotte Observer.
Mecklenburg County Commissioners, on the other hand, early $28,336 per year in salary, plus an allowance of $17,656 for expenses, WBTV reported.
Braxton made the argument that under the current city council pay structure, citizens who were not independently wealthy found it challenging to serve their community.
“The salary structure of local policy makers is such that it really only makes sense for Charlotteans who have already accumulated wealth or don’t have to support families to serve. Otherwise you have to go through extraordinary measures to serve in this role,” Winston wrote in an email to WBTV.
But the money that Winston, Newton, and Mayfield are after for their own paychecks falls into the category of one-time funding and wouldn’t typically be repurposed for a recurring expense like salary, City of Charlotte Budget Director Phil Reiger explained.
Undeterred, Newton wanted to know how far the $1 million would go to cover the city council salary increases, WBTV reported.
“I would venture to say that would probably last quite a long period of time at which point from a recurring standpoint that could probably be figured out,” he suggested.
Mayfield also proposed taking $250,000 from the police training budget funding to use for corridor development from Tuckaseegee Road to Nations Ford Road, WBTV reported.
Both suggestions were shot down by city staff, but that didn’t stop the city council members from trying to boost their own incomes.
The proposal to cut the police department’s Crisis Intervention Training budget was raised again the next day during a City Council budget meeting, according to WBTV.
But before the end of the Thursday meeting, Mayfield, Newton and Winston had all back-peddled and tried to defend their suggestions to reduce officers’ crisis training.
Mayfield said she had tried to cut the police department’s training budget because she had been told the specialized training was voluntary.
She also complained that she hadn’t been given the specific details about the implementation of the crisis training, WBTV reported.
“If you say something is voluntary, voluntary isn’t good enough. We want to make sure all our officers are properly trained so that we have better outcomes with incidents,” Mayfield said in a quick about-face.
Jones, the city manager, explained the training would include an eight-hour tactical medical course for most police officers and allow for additional cultural efficiency training, WBTV reported.
However, Jones also said that proper Crisis Intervention Training for the entire department would cost more than $2 million, so another $1 million was budget for fiscal year 2021.
“I think in all fairness [Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney] needs some time to structure who gets what level of training,” the city manager said.
Chief Kerr told WBTV that he wanted to bring in mental health experts to explain Crisis Intervention Training best practices to the City Council.
“That’s the confusion. What I want you to know, what I want the community to know is the experts are going to talk in the next month about how it should be delivered and why and if they are to say all of them should get 40 hours of training, obviously that’s what I would want, but that’s not their recommendation,” the chief said.
Winston, who initially proposed the salary hike, tried to claim on Thursday that he never thought the pay increase for the city council should be taken out of the police training budget, WBTV reported.
“Of course I didn’t want any CIT training cut, I’m looking for expansion in CIT training,” he said.
Winston then proposed that other first responders, such as firefighters, should also receive the Crisis Intervention Training, something that would cost the city far more than the $2 million currently allocated, WBTV reported.
Newton claimed he had been out of the room when Mayfield proposed cutting the police training budget and said that he had no idea where they were getting the money for the proposed salary hike.
“I’m actually in favor of the $2 million in funding, I misunderstood what we were suggesting where the $1 million was coming from yesterday," he said.