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Township Unlikely To Embrace ‘Defund The Police’ Movement

Franklin Township is not likely to join the “defund the police” campaign that is arising across the country, officials said on June 11.

The reason, officials say, is that the township police department isn’t funded to the extent that would make that practical.

The comments came from Mayor Phil Kramer, Township Manager Robert Vornlocker and Public Safety Director Quovella Spruill during Kramer’s virtual “town hall” meeting.

Contrary to what its name implies, the “defund” movement is not calling for the eradication of police departments; rather, it calls for a re-allocation of money normally earmarked for police departments to other social services.

The theory is that police violence will be diminished if police officers are not called upon in situations that would be better-suited for, say, a social worker, which would allow officers to do the functions for which they are primarily trained.

Calls for “defunding” police departments have grown in prominence among protestors marching for racial justice and equality in the wake of a police-involved killing of a Minneapolis, Minn. man.

The township’s 2020 budget allocates a total of $15.5 million to the police department for salaries, wages and “other” expenses, just shy of 25 percent of the total $63 million spending plan.

Rather than take money away from the department, Vornlocker said, there have been suggestions that the department’s budget be increased through the addition of more officers.

A months-long review of the township police force by the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office led to the recommendation to township officials that more police officers be hired, Vornlocker said.

“One of the things that was stressed to me, was that one of the most important things identified was the need to increase staff of the police department because of a shortage,” he said. “The police department is below authorized strength by eight.”

The department now has 100 sworn officers, with an authorized strength of 108, FTPD Lt. Phil Rizzo said.

“The prosecutor’s office felt it was very important that that be brought up to levels,” as well as promoting more officers into supervisory positions, Vornlocker said.

Kramer said he did not want to “pull the rug out from under” Spruill by taking money away from the department. He said that taking money away from the FTPD would probably mean laying off police offciers.

“There’s been some violence in town within the last year, and people were calling for us to increase the size of our police force,” he said. “To contemplate a substantial reduction of our police force at this time to accommodate the defund movement” is not practical.

Spruill will need money for training, Kramer said.

“I’m not going to disable her from going forward with that,” he said. “If it doesn’t work after a while, that is something else we can consider.”

“I just don’t think that will work in Franklin right now,” Kramer said. “We are not Minneapolis, we are not New York City, we are not Newark.”

“During these times, everything is questioned,” Spruill said. “One of the major things I am looking at is efficiency and accountability, that’s most important right now.”

Spruill said all she asks is that “you give me the opportunity to do my job with the resources that we have.”

She said that she doesn’t see losing money now “as helping any of the situations we have in Franklin right now. I just ask for everyone’s patience.”

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