Among topics discussed during Monday night's study session on the city's FY 22-23 recommended budget, public safety was one of the community's top concerns.
Redwood City council member Diane Howard spoke to growing concerns around public safety in downtown Redwood City and the impact they've had on only local business owners.
"There are people in this audience who are part of our Downtown Business Group, and I wanted to acknowledge them. They've been through a rough time through this pandemic," she said.
Referencing the recent upticks of fireworks and other disruptive behavior, Howard voiced concern over what she described as insufficient support for local law enforcement.
"These last two years have been very difficult for everyone but especially for our men and women in blue," she said. "Over the past 30 years we've worked so hard to transform our downtown into a destination…I would refuse to let our downtown become an area where residents are fearful to explore."
Acknowledging that hiring more officers inflicts a significant cost on the city, she said the alternative would be even more expensive in the long run.
"I'm committed to providing our police force with the manpower and the equipment to keep our streets safe," she said.
While the city avoided layoffs and furloughs during the last few years, compared to the previous year, the new budget for all salaries, wages and benefits, which comprise more than 66% of the general fund, has been reduced by 0.5%.
The police department makes up a significant portion of the budget but has also seen a reduction of 1.2% since last year. The police department makes up 31.5% of the total budget.
Last week, the city addressed the need for a "collaborative approach" between the police department, local nonprofits, community members, businesses and the youth involved in recent incidents. These incidents, according to police, have caused disruptions in downtown and threatened businesses and the public.
During public comment, more than 20 members of the community spoke, offering a variety of opinions on how best to allocate city funds in the coming year.
Some, like Fox Theatre General Manager Ernie Schmidt, demanded that the city commit more resources to law enforcement, particularly in the downtown area.
"The question is, how sustainable is this? You have an excess of 12 officers following the kids around all night until they just give up and go home," he said. "But we all know that this is expensive. And more importantly, we have officers being called in from their days off."
Urging the council to unfreeze nine police officer positions instead, he said, "It is your obligation to make sure our police department has what they need to perform their duties well."
Redwood City resident and father David Sheeran agreed, calling the situation "absolutely ridiculous."
"I'm really concerned…The downtown is a mess," Sheeran said. Lamenting that his 15-year-old son has recently been afraid to go downtown, he wondered at the decision to unfreeze just five police positions. "Our police officers are not babysitters," he added.
Others, like Faith in Action member and longtime resident Marcelene Luna, questioned the logic of increasing the budget for law enforcement.
"We need to reimagine the true meaning of public safety. Spending more money on police—thinking that will make us safer is delusional," Luna said. "Study after study continues to show that the safest communities are those that invest in systemic, long-term and community-oriented solutions…
"Funding should be diverted to these resources," she added.