Lansing City Councilmember Calls For Police Budget To Be Cut In Half

Jul 9, 2020

After a white police officer killed George Floyd in May, there have been nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic injustice. Now, calls to defund the police have grown louder across the country.

In Lansing, one city council member is proposing cutting the city’s police budget in half over a 5-year period and redirecting that money to other public safety initiatives.


Brandon Betz represents the First Ward. On Tuesday, he announced a draft resolution to partially defund the city police. He joined WKAR’s Sophia Saliby to talk about his proposal.

Interview Highlights

On Why The City Council Hadn’t Considered A Proposal Like This Before Now

It was not a conversation that we were having, and I think that's in part because I'm a white male. I mean, this conversation has been happening in the Black community since the 90s. The Defund Movement was started by Black feminists in the 90s. So, the fact is, we just haven't been listening. And I think that now is just a time where the political momentum is there, the momentum on the ground is there and the momentum is just there.

On Why He Thinks The Police Department Should Be Defunded

Police officers, as they are right now, are doing too many things. They're health care providers. They're road patrol. They're mental health care providers. They're all of these things that they shouldn't be doing because they are not skilled in those things. They aren't social workers. And so, when we talk about what the police do, I think the police can do a lot less, and I think that we can change those services and put those services into something different.

On If He Thinks The City Is Ready For A Big Change Like This

I think that council is ready. I think that our council, in particular, is ready to come to task with that and ready to do the work that needs to be done, especially when we have a mayor who isn't really stepping up to the plate. Council has to do that. I'm calling on council and asking each of my council members individually to support this resolution, so that we can start having this discussion and start really reimagining what public safety looks like.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: After a white police officer killed George Floyd in May, there have been nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic injustice. Now, calls to defund the police have grown louder across the country.

In Lansing, one city council member is proposing cutting the city’s police budget in half over a 5-year period and redirecting that money to other public safety initiatives.

Brandon Betz represents the First Ward. On Tuesday, he announced a draft resolution to partially defund the city police. Thank you for joining me.

Brandon Betz: Thank you, Sophia. It's a pleasure to be here.

Saliby: I just gave a brief overview of your proposed resolution. Can you break down what it would actually do if it's passed?

Betz: It's as far as we can go on council because the mayor has a lot of power over the budgets and things like that. This resolution would create a committee that would be chaired and sat on by City Council people. We would take public input and read and study and do all this. And the idea is to create a report that then, we can give to the mayor's office to say, "Hey, this is the way that we can defund the police and reinvest in our community."

I think that the reinvestment part of this is really, really important, obviously, because we've got to take that money, and we've got to make sure that we have some form of public safety, and then also make sure that the money that we're reinvesting in the community is reinvested in the right way that actually helps people of color, the Black community and all of that. So, that's kind of the idea behind the resolution and more of the specifics of what it will do.

Saliby: Can you tell me a little bit about why you put it together? Why now?

Betz: Yeah, that's a great question. I actually got this question from a constituent just a little while ago in the face of George Floyd, the murder of George Floyd and all of that. There have been a lot of protests in Lansing, and there's been a lot of calls for this particular action to defund the police, especially from our Black community. In Lansing, our Black community is very strong and very resilient. And they have asked very specifically that we move in this direction.

I've worked with Black Lives Matter, with the Firecracker Foundation, with a lot of nonprofits, Black-owned and run nonprofits and other organizations to draft this resolution. Again, our goal in particular is to reimagine public safety. And this is what we're trying to do in this, and this is just a first step in a long process, a budgetary process and the conversation that we need to have about public safety.

Saliby: You voted to approve the city's next budget in May, that was just a week before George Floyd was killed. That budget does include funding nearly $47 million for the police department. Had you thought about the City Council taking up something like defunding the police before Floyd's death and these protests?

Betz: It was not a conversation that we were having, and I think that's in part because I'm a white male. I mean, this conversation has been happening in the Black community since the 90s. The Defund Movement was started by Black feminists in the 90s. So, the fact is, we just haven't been listening. And I think that now is just a time where the political momentum is there, the momentum on the ground is there and the momentum is just there.

Because people are saying, enough is enough. It's time for change. It's time for radical change. And it's time for us to truly listen to the Black community when they're saying police don't protect them.

RELATED: Lansing Police Chief Pushes Back Against Calls To Defund, Says Department Is Underfunded

Saliby: I interviewed Lansing Police Chief Daryl Green last month. He told me he actually feels his department is underfunded and that if he saw cuts, some trainings would be the first things to go. How do you respond to something like that?

Betz: The trainings are not the first thing to go. As City Council and as the mayor, we are the ones who get to decide the budget, not the police chief. So, we can cut personnel, and I think that we will be doing that.

We need to, again, reimagine public safety. Police officers, as they are right now, are doing too many things. They're health care providers. They're road patrol. They're mental health care providers. They're all of these things that they shouldn't be doing because they are not skilled in those things. They aren't social workers. And so when we talk about what the police do, I think the police can do a lot less, and I think that we can change those services and put those services into something different.

Saliby: You're asking for a big change for the city. Have you spoken to other council members, other people that would be involved in this decision-making process about this kind of proposal?

Betz: This is a long-term and a really tough thing for a lot of council members to do. Now, what I tell them about this particular resolution that we're going to be introducing on Monday, is that this is a first step. This is a discussion, and this discussion is warranted. This discussion has been called from by the people. And to that point, I think that us, as the city, and as the city needs to be innovative, we can't be sitting back in old times where we just do the same old development, where we do the same old policing [or] where we do the same old stuff.

It's time for change, and it's time for meaningful change that protects the Black community. I think that council is ready. I think that our council, in particular, is ready to come to task with that and ready to do the work that needs to be done, especially when we have a mayor who isn't really stepping up to the plate. Council has to do that.

I'm calling on Council and asking each of my council members individually to support this resolution, so that we can start having this discussion and start really reimagining what public safety looks like.

Saliby: Brandon Betz is a Lansing City Councilmember who represents the First Ward. Thank you for joining me.

Betz: Yeah, thank you very much. This was a great conversation. I appreciate it.