“This review isn’t just financial. Certainly the numbers tell a big story here, but this is also going to look at the administrative processes,” said Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza. “It’s going to look at the calls coming in. It’s going to look at how we deploy resources. It’s going to look at every aspect of public safety. This is going to put us in a position where we can make these very important strategic changes.“
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza today announced an engagement with PFM’s Center for Justice and Safety Finance, which will be conducting an independent budget analysis and operations review of the City’s Public Safety Department. The goal of the review and analysis is to provide a breakdown of possible savings and efficiencies in public safety operations to increase capacity for prevention-first investments and approaches in sectors like housing, education, health care, mental health and social services, and workforce training, among others.
“We are living through a once-in-a-generation moment with the ability to influence transformative change in how we approach public safety in our city,” said Mayor Elorza. “We know that it is sometimes inefficient or ineffective to ask our public safety personnel to perform some of the functions we ask of them simply because they are the most available resource at the time. Rather than tasking them with these functions, we need to empower behavioral health and social service partners and agencies who are already engaged in this work to provide more positive outcomes for all our residents.”
As a part of the review and analysis and a piece of a larger commitment to social justice and equity by the City, the PFM team will leverage the ten-year budget projection model created in 2015/2016 to develop a budget forecasting tool for the Public Safety Department, which includes the Providence Police Department, Providence Fire Department and EMS. The budget projection tool will help the project team evaluate options to enhance the City’s investment in prevention-first approaches to safety and justice.
Upon the creation of the budget forecasting tool for the Public Safety Department, the PFM team will then develop a high-level cost impact or savings associated with each initiative to create a menu of approaches. This initiative-by-initiative breakdown will be included in the budget projection tool and will allow the City to assess the fiscal impact of the recommendations, in isolation or in tandem, for in-depth analysis.
Asked if he sees this work as leading to systemic policing reform in the city and if the issues of poverty, housing, drug use and over criminalization might be considered as part of this audit, or is the expected report simply financial, Elorza replied:
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“I see it as potentially tackling all of this. This review isn’t just financial. Certainly the numbers tell a big story here, but this is also going to look at the administrative processes. It’s going to look at the calls coming in. It’s going to look at how we deploy resources. It’s going to look at every aspect of public safety. This is going to put us in a position where we can make these very important strategic changes.
“Every institution in our society is infected with institutional racism. It’s not just the police department, it’s all public safety and it’s not just public safety, it’s every institution in our society. That is clear. So what we want to do is make sure that we’re [creating] structural and deep impacting and lasting reforms that undoes that racism and unjust treatment from the past and creates more of a fair society where everyone feels protected, everyone feels empowered and everyone has opportunity.
“There are many advocates who are calling for change,” continued Mayor Elorza. “Now I’ll make two points. The first point is there are a number of cities that have announced reforms and changes and as we’ve watched many of those cities make those reforms and changes I can assure you that we’ve kept track. And many of the reforms that that they have made, the city of Providence made a decade and more ago. That’s what I mean about us being on the frontline historically and wanting to continue to be. The second thing that I’ll mention is that I know that folks want change and they want change now, but we’re talking about systems and institutions that have evolved and developed over decades – and sometimes even hundreds of years. You don’t turnaround an institution and make the structural institutional change overnight. What we want to do is make sure that we’re doing it right. And this analysis, this administrative audit is the right way to start before we start making such important and consequential changes. Let’s do our research. Let’s have our facts together and know exactly what the consequences are going to be rather than shooting in the dark.”
As for taking this approach with other city departments, as was suggested by Providence City Councilmember Nicholas Narducci (Ward 4), Elorza said that for now, public safety is the priority:
“As of right now, our focus is, is on public safety. I think that’s where the greatest urgency is so that’s where we’re starting. If you remember, this goes back maybe about six years, we also did an administrative audit in the school department about six years ago. This is a part of a process to improve our systems and provide for our departments as best as we can, but we also want to be responsive to the urgent need and urgent call for reform specifically around public safety.”
I should note here that Narducci’s greater point was in opposition to the PFM review.
The City has also selected local artist facilitators, Vatic Kuumba and Shey Rivera Ríos, in partnership with Co-Executive Director of PrYSM Vanessa Flores-Maldonado, as part of the project team to design an art-based project that centers the priorities and needs identified by communities most harmed by systemically racist policing and the gaps in public safety. Over the past few months, Vatic Kuumba and Shey Rivera Ríos have facilitated, planned and supported six community discussions about public safety and how it relates to the City budget.
Designed by Vatic Kuumba and Shey Rivera Ríos, “The Moral Documents” or “Moral Docs, A Providence Public Health and Safety Project” will be a web-based transmedia art project to re-envision public health and safety in the City of Providence. The project will identify current health needs and existing gaps in service, as well as make strategic recommendations about priority issues and opportunities. It will accomplish this by using film, animation, and design to uplift community stories that present historic and modern harms associated with the complications of public safety and behavioral health. The project will also present a vision for community-designed public safety strategies that can make a case for increasing investment into anti-racist institutions with meaningful community ownership.