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COCONINO VOICES

Coconino Voices: Salas' statement before Flagstaff City Council budgetary vote

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Kudos and thank you to the AZ Daily Sun and reporter Adrian Skabelund for publishing the front-page story on Flagstaff City Council’s unanimous vote passing the city’s 2021 budget. For the benefit of AZDS readers, the following is my statement prior to the vote June 17. (The full text is available online.)

I speak only for myself, and not for the entire Council nor the City of Flagstaff.

We are here tonight to discuss the City budget. Last year, transitioning to priority-based budgeting, Council has identified the following priorities: High Performing Government, Safe and Healthy Community, Inclusive and Engaged Community, Sustainable and Innovative Infrastructure, Robust Resilient Economy, Livable Community and Environmental Stewardship. I believe the proposed budget has evolved to attain these priorities. With profound and immense gratitude, I am sending every member of our Team Flagstaff a big thankful heart, particularly those who stayed with us till 2:40 a.m. this morning reading the 385 public comments. I’m also deeply appreciative of all members of the public who sent public comments. I respect everyone’s opinions and perspectives.

First of all, I fully support the “Strategic Framework for Truth, Justice and Racial Reconciliation” put forth by the Flagstaff African American Community in partnership with the Southside Community Association to address deplorable racial conditions affecting the nation. I will advocate for budgetary allocation toward this endeavor. This is envisaged by facilitating an all-inclusive community dialogue about “Black Lives and the Lived Experience” of blacks in Flagstaff — with regional and national implications, with a series of public forums laser-focused on addressing housing, economics, cultural sensitivity, implicit bias and racial conflict, and countering pervasive anti-black racism in our midst. I look forward to working together and building unity in our diverse community and pursue strategic resolutions that can bring us together and to help guide the continuing “dialogue of shared destiny.”

To contribute to civil discourse regarding police funding and reform, I reiterate the purpose of law enforcement in a free society that is to promote public safety and uphold the rule of law so that individual liberty may flourish. Trust and accountability between law enforcement and the communities they are sworn to protect is essential to advancing these goals. Without law enforcement, anarchy, chaos and lawlessness may prevail.

The mission of our Flagstaff Police Department is to protect and preserve life, property, public order and the rights of the individual, by providing exemplary service through the establishment of a partnership of shared responsibility, support and trust with the law-abiding members of the community.

I am very confident that every member of our police department abides by this mission with an elevated degree of dedication and compassion. By the very nature of their duty and responsibility, the police and firefighters/EMT remain the only entities of government that consistently and constantly responds to every situation where immediate help is needed. In the over 14 years I have lived in Flagstaff, I have seen many times how our highly trained police officers respond to emergency calls in a timely, safe, proactive and compassionate manner while de-escalating a situation. Every member of our police department received 8 hours of training on “Fair and Impartial Policing,” an implicit bias course offered by the Fair and Unbiased Policing Institute, a very well-known and respected consortium that has offered training to law enforcement professionals around the country.

I have also witnessed the continuing efforts of our police department to collaborate and partner with our diverse neighborhoods to keep our community safe and well. Improving public safety and reducing crime by strengthening accountability and transparency; creating opportunities for educational exchanges such as “citizens' police academy” establishing regular neighborhood meetings, maintaining communication and follow-up between these meetings; and organizing forums to discuss policies and tactics.

In my view, the nationwide call to “defund the police” is not the solution and means to achieving the change that is sought by many concerned and frustrated members of the community in response to their concerns over rogue police actions and deplorable behavior in areas outside Flagstaff. I believe promoting community policing; embracing systemic reforms; and improving police training, policies, and procedures will require both dedicated resources and an enduring commitment from police leaders, police unions, community members, and elected officials. Now is not the time to further limit the capacity of our police department to connect and engage with our communities, as well as to provide services to those who are most in need of assistance and protection.

Additionally, the issues in our criminal justice system extend well beyond the behavior of police officers. Over the years, reductions in state and federal budgets have slashed funding for mental health services, homelessness, substance abuse and recovery services; offender re-entry programs; educational and vocational training opportunities; and programs that promote economic improvement. It is important to note, however, our combined Flagstaff Municipal and Coconino County Superior Courts have made successful strides with recovery and re-entry programs.

By default, our police officers have filled the void created by funding cuts in social and medical welfare systems, which often places police officers in an untenable position. For example, the lack of funding for mental health services by state and federal governments in recent years means that the police are often the only ones left to call to situations where a social worker or mental health professional would have been more appropriate and safer for all involved. Although our police department is working to train officers in crisis intervention and mental health first aid, this does not take the place of proper medical treatment.

I agree there is a need to provide additional resources to social services, education, public housing, and mental health services. Fulfilling this need should not come at the expense of police funding, but rather, additional resources given to these areas, from state and federal agencies.

I look forward to more inclusive and engaged conversations with our diverse community moving forward. Successfully moving forward will require a comprehensive, determined, and informed policy effort that will involve all aspects of society and all levels of government. This solution will not be simple or cheap, but it is what is necessary to effectively address the challenges that confront us.

Lastly, l support the right to assemble and protest, in a peaceful and lawful manner. I am committed to growing our beloved Flagstaff as an inclusive and engaged community, with unity in diversity. I am dedicated toward thriving as a unified community in adversity.

With loving kindness, compassion, and respect, I remain your servant on City Council and a stalwart supporter of law enforcement at all levels of government, specially our Flagstaff Police Department.

Regina Salas is a Flagstaff City Councilmember.

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