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    Sunday, June 23, 2024

    “Defund the police” controversy comes up at Stonington candidates forum

    Stonington ―The first question at last week’s candidates forum asked Board of Finance candidates if they supported defunding the police department.

    While the issue has been a controversial one in some communities across the country, it’s not one that has been raised by residents here with town officials. The question posed by forum moderator and Republican Town Committee Chairman Glenn Frishman appears to have been prompted by a three-year-old Facebook post by Democrat Farrah Garland, who is running for the Board of Finance this fall.

    That was when she shared a post by a Facebook group called Defund the Police, which referenced an X (formerly Twitter) post by Denver Post reporter Elise Schmelzer regarding an article the newspaper published discussing the success of a new program in Denver which sends a paramedic and mental health expert to certain 911 calls instead of police.

    None of the candidates at the Sept. 13 forum, including Garland, said they were in support of defunding the police.

    However Garland initially sought clarification on what was meant by the use of “defunding” in question.

    But Frishman did not provide an answer.

    Garland argued that a close look at the police department’s budget would be a “fantastic” use of the finance board’s time.

    “I don’t think that necessarily means we will make a decision to reduce funding, but it’s a conversation that should be had,” Garland said.

    “Defund the Police” is a slogan commonly used by racial equity activists that increased during the protests following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer while other officers did not intervene.

    The phrase is generally used to advocate for reallocating resources from police departments to non-policing entities such as social services and mental health agencies as well as organizations that address social issues like housing insecurity, homelessness, poverty, health and education.

    Activists believe reallocating funds to social programs that address these issues will reduce the burden on police departments that are often called on to perform non-police functions better suited to social welfare programs.

    “As a Board of Finance candidate, I believe we need to be thoughtful in funding across the town, and always look at the data. I am open about my desire to ensure that all budgets are used appropriately and responsibly,” Garland said in a statement on Monday. “I look at spending as not just dollars and cents, the bottom line on a spreadsheet, but as the human beings that are represented by that bottom line. I see children who need air conditioning in their school. I see disabled people who need sidewalks with curb cuts. I see homeowners who live near the water, whose yards flood more and more with every rain event.”

    Garland also said that the members of the Board of Finance have an obligation to taxpayers to closely study every department budget, not just the police budget, to find areas where town funds could be reallocated to other necessary projects including infrastructure and accessibility projects like sidewalks.

    Garland also stated in response to the defunding question last week that the town’s crime rate was “virtually non-existent,” though the police budget increases every year.

    Police department data submitted to the Board of Police Commissioners for the month of August shows that the department received 1,849 calls for service.

    Officers handled approximately 400 minor community support issues like keys locked in vehicles, found items and nuisance complaints.

    The report showed 10 instances of identity theft, 30 motor vehicle accidents of which five had injuries, and 52 reports of suspicious activity.

    Additionally, the department issued 23 infractions including reckless driving and driving without a license and made 26 arrests for crimes such as assault, driving under the influence, burglary and narcotics.

    Garland’s response was swiftly met with social media criticism from candidates, including some fellow Democratic candidates who attempted to distance themselves from Garland’s comments.

    “As the Democratic candidate for First Selectman, I can assure you that the other two Democratic (finance board) candidates, Bill Sternberg and Deborah Norman and I support the Stonington Police Department and its funding. Just like the Stonington (Republican Town Committee), the Stonington (Democratic Town Committee) is made up of many, sometimes conflicting voices,” said Laura Graham.

    “As a candidate for the (Board of Finance) I too was shocked that Ms. Garland said the PD budget should be reduced and that "crime in Stonington is non-existent." She is out of touch. I believe this statement alone should disqualify her from a seat on the BOF. If elected to the BOF I will support the PD just as I did when I served on the Police Commission,” said Rebublican candidate David Brown.

    Garland, however, did not say the police department budget should be reduced.

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