On Monday, Turlock resident Lisette Sims started a social media firestorm when she posted a flyer for the “Cap at 40% Campaign,” which calls for the Turlock Police Department to receive no more than 40 percent of the City of Turlock’s annual budget. In the City of Turlock’s Adopted Fiscal Year 2020-21 Budget, TPD is allocated $21,178,634, or about 51 percent of the budget.
The flyer was reposted by various Turlock-affiliated Facebook pages and groups, like the Turlock Black Lives Matter Movement and Reopen Turlock, where members of the public with varying viewpoints expressed support, opposition and confusion about the campaign. Sims, a vocal instructor and performer, said she was inspired to create the campaign after looking at the budgets of other municipalities nearby and those with populations similar to Turlock. She said she found Turlock’s funding for its police department “highly unusual.”
Sims admitted the City of Turlock’s revenue issues could be a contributing factor to TPD’s large budget allocation; the most-recently adopted budget underwent significant cuts, contributing to nearly every sector receiving less money than normal.
“If revenue really is the issue, and Mayor Bublak wants to support the police, why did she vote no on the sales tax increase? I think it is important that we are having these conversations,” Sims said. “The ‘Cap at 40% Campaign’ was created to start this dialogue. If the cap at 40 percent is not feasible, let’s talk about why other cities are able to do it and not us.”
Sims pointed to other cities whose police departments receive less than Turlock’s, like San Jose (30 percent) and San Diego (34 percent). San Jose’s budget for 2020-21 is $4.1 billion, while San Diego’s is $3.9 billion. Turlock’s most recent budget is just under $42 million. It is Sims' hope that more of the City’s budget can be used in areas experiencing hardship, like services for youth, homeless and minorities.
The “Cap at 40% Campaign” called for Turlock residents to phone into Tuesday night’s City Council meeting and voice their support for the effort, prompting TPD Chief Nino Amirfar to post a statement on Facebook stating he had had enough of calls for defunding the police.
“Defunding the police is not the answer. TPD has already been cut by over $2 million over (the) last two years and our staffing levels are back to 2011 levels now,” Amirfar said, noting that programs like the Neighborhood Resource Officer Program and CARE Team fell victim to the cuts. “...We are already at basic response services and non-life threatening calls are holding for hours. Is this what Turlock wants? I say no!!! Enough is enough!!!!”
Amirfar also encouraged community members to call into Tuesday’s meeting, which saw over 60 public comment participants. Ironically, the discussion during public comment took place on the same night that a community-led resolution supporting police was presented to the City Council.
Former Councilmember Bill DeHart was one resident who weighed in on the “Cap at 40% Campaign,” stating that he was “incredulous.”
“Police services top the list of core services that the public cannot provide for themselves and must be supported by the formal governmental structure,” DeHart said. “No one else can provide these services in this dangerous world in which we live...Defunding could lead to a return to the Wild West if this strategy is pursued.”
Turlock BLM Movement co-founder Elisha Coleman also shared his thoughts, clarifying that “Defund the Police” does not mean “get rid of the police.”
“What we would like to see is a reinvestment in our community and see some of the funds allocated to police — because they do get most of them — be put into things like solving the homeless issues here in Turlock,” Coleman said, adding that he believes there are many issues police officers are asked to handle that could be handled by a different agency. “We need to reallocate funds so police aren’t dealing with as many things as they're being asked to. Let’s look at the money being spent on them and see how it can be used on other things around town.”
Many callers during public comment expressed their support for TPD, adding that they would not support a reduction in funding because they do not feel safe in Turlock anymore. Per TPD’s annual report, the crime rate in Turlock rose by 5 percent in 2019. During a presentation of the report to the City Council in June, Amirfar said the increase is a direct impact of the budgetary cuts that were imposed on the police department in March 2019.
“I’ve been a Turlock resident for several years and I am absolutely, for the first time in my life, terrified. I am terrified of Black Lives Matter. They scare the bejeebies out of me...I don’t trust them. I fear them and I think that these people who want to defund the police are completely unrealistic and I question what their real agenda is,” Katherine Todd said. “I think police are our heroes. I love them and I’m very grateful for everything they've done in Turlock.”
Sims also called into public comment and stated that Patterson, Ceres and Ripon all spend less on their police departments than Turlock. Councilmember Nicole Larson pointed out that per resident, Turlock spends less on police than Ceres, Modesto, Tracy, Lodi and several other cities.
“The reality is that our police department is already underfunded...The movement itself is asking decision makers what we ask of our police officers and what we expect.Turlock City Councilmember Nicole Larson
Other callers emphasized that the focus should be on improving available programs within the City, regardless of whether or not the police department receives more or less money.
“If you guys don’t think that defunding the police is a solution, please come up with a solution,” Turlock BLM Movement co-founder Jaimee Ellison said. “Let’s talk. That’s what we are here for. We want to have these conversations and we want Turlock to be a better place for everyone.”
Councilmember Gil Esquer shared his thoughts on the campaign.
“Turlock has always been a special community. I am extremely distressed to hear community members say that they currently live in fear in Turlock. That really bothers me,” Esquer said. “I will not in any way shape or form support any measure to eliminate any police services. This department is already understaffed and overworked, and I personally want more boots in the field.”
Councilmember Nosrati did not comment on the topic during the meeting, but provided a statement to the Journal after it was incorrectly stated on social media that he fully supported the “Cap at 40% Campaign.”
“While I encourage every member of the public to voice their opinion and to get involved with the budgeting process, I have never expressed support for any defund the police efforts. I recognize and appreciate the importance of the police to our community,” Nosrati said. “This appears to be a continuation of an aggressive smear campaign led by those behind SAVE Turlock, with local bloggers trying to pass off unconfirmed reports as news.”
Later in Tuesday’s meeting and after the public comment portion, City Manager Toby Wells brought forward a resolution crafted by Turlock resident Ron Bridegroom. It had originally called for “full funding” of TPD, but after discussions with City staff and the police department, the resolution was changed to declare full “support” of Turlock’s officers. During discussion about the topic, Council asked that the resolution be edited for clarity before being brought before the council again.
Nosrati questioned the purpose of the resolution and wondered whether it was creating unnecessary “drama” at City Hall, to which Mayor Amy Bublak responded.
“From my standpoint, having been in law enforcement for many, many years, many times I’ve had to not tell people I was a cop. People don’t like cops — it’s a derogatory thing. Right now, law enforcement is underappreciated and if it takes a resolution saying we actually appreciate you...there’s nothing wrong with that,” Bublak said. “For the first time in my life, I’m done trying to apologize for being a cop. I’m now a mayor...right now they’re under attack. This is our job to tell them they’re doing a good job."