Mayor Walsh’s deal with the PBA pretends that 2020 never happened. It pretends that the City’s situation right now is that same as it was in 2019. It pretends that nobody marched for reform or said anything worth hearing about policing last year.
Headed into arbitration over the police contract, City Hall just wants to get the same terms that they negotiated back at the end of 2019—terms that would add millions of dollars to the police budget for years to come. As the Walsh administration’s lead negotiator put it: “There really, in our mind, wasn’t any reason to go back to the drawing board and start all over again.”
I would think it’d be obvious to anyone who lived through 2020 why a huge increase to the police budget isn’t appropriate in 2021. I would think it’d be obvious why today is different from a year ago and why City Hall had a mandate to go back to the drawing board and get a new deal.
There was a national popular uprising against the common practice of policing in American cities. The Syracuse community participated in that movement and clearly communicated that the problems with modern American policing are problems in this City too.
One of the biggest problems the movement identified is the overwhelming size of police budgets. In Syracuse—a city perennially on the brink of fiscal collapse—20 cents of every dollar goes to the SPD. This extravagance makes it impossible to provide the municipal programs and services the City really needs, and so it is necessary for City Hall to rebalance its budget by committing more resources to the community.
This was a specific, explicit criticism that Syracuse activists repeated for months. Mayor Walsh heard it, but it’s clear he did not listen. It will be impossible to invest in community programs and services if police are taking an ever larger slice of the municipal pie.
The voices that explained all this last year were powerful and eloquent. City Hall needs to pay them heed and negotiate a new agreement with the PBA.