Reprinted with Permission
Aransas Pass Progress – by Sabrina Hutton
Originally Published 09/09/2020
With the term “defunding the police” popping up regularly now, many have probably wondered what this entails and what it would mean for a community like Aransas Pass. Aransas Pass Police Department’s Police Chief Eric Blanchard has stepped forward to provide some light on this subject.
“I cannot tell you precisely what defunding does, it manifests differently depending on the community, but what I can tell you is police agencies typically need MORE funding,” Blanchard said. “The demand on police officers today is so great, less funds will only make matters worse.”
Blanchard used a common issue APPD comes across, mental health issues, as an example.
“Years ago, the mental health system got away from institutionalization, [and], as a result, much of the mental health related issues that arise from one experiencing crisis are pawned off on law enforcement,” he said. “This isn’t just a local problem; it’s a national crisis. As a result, police continue to adapt to the new calling by receiving detailed-oriented training related to people in mental health crisis.”
Blanchard said officers at APPD had to deal with one such incident on Friday, August 21 when they handled a person suffering from mental health problems that also stem from drug use.
“The person had just been released from the mental health hospital the week before, only to be taken back in by our officers Monday, August 17,” he said. “The hospital again released him without any remedy in place. As a result, on Friday, August 21, we ended up arresting him for threatening to harm a family member. While in our jail, he smeared his feces all over the walls and cell door, destroyed our jail cell phone, attempted to destroy the camera inside the cell and then fought with officers who had to enter the cell to prevent him from harming himself or damaging the cell further.”
As a result, three officers, Blanchard included, were exposed to [the man’s] fecal matter during the struggle.
“The mess he created was huge and left us with damages of upwards of $1000 or more,” Blanchard said. “And, this was just one scenario of a dozen we regularly handle. So, my question for those Cities choosing to defund – how do you or your so-called social workers plan to handle similar situations?”
Social workers and fill-ins in place of the police will not work, Blanchard said.
“In fact, just yesterday, Thursday, August 27, we were sent to another location by mental health staff (social workers) to manage an armed suicidal subject,” he said. “Again, how will Austin, for example, answer that next, since they plan to defund their force by one-third of their budget?”
“When we serve a public that expects a greater-than-human response, we need all the funding we can get to try to achieve this unreasonable expectation,“ Blanchard said.
“Consider how I direct APPD,” he said. “I always set the mark so high that I know we will never reasonably reach it, but the more we near [that mark], the higher I raise it.”
Blanchard said doing so allows APPD to continually strive for and become more and more successful.
“We in APPD would not be where we are today without the necessary funding and support of the council and community to help us get here; and then there – into the future wherever the mark extends,” he said.
To help the community understand what defunding the police would do to a community like Aransas Pass, Blanchard explained the changes that would follow this action.
“If AP were to defund by one third like Austin, we’d likely have to cut staff,” he said. “The majority of any department’s expense is manpower.”
One third of APPD’s budget would be just over a million dollars a year.
“Because I cannot afford to lose staff, I’d likely cut the following first: training would be limited to nearly eliminated; technology and improvements would get cut; public awareness campaigns and informational PSAs would be eliminated; participation in community events and overtime would be gone; our detectives division would be cut by one third, so case investigations and follow-ups would likely suffer, if not fail on a broader level; and I would have to cut our School Resource Officers, Assistant Chief of Police, Training and Emergency Management Captain and several patrol slots,” Blanchard said. “Ultimately, the goal would be to sustain a strong patrol response. Patrol and emergency dispatch are the lifelines to policing in any city.”
Blanchard said, “We’d go from being proactive to trying to stay reactive and mostly to just emergency calls.”
“Our community members would likely feel the most significant impact, unfortunately,” he said. “And, quite frankly, I do not believe the community would allow it.”
Blanchard said he recently mentioned to the Texas Police Chief’s Association, which he is a member of, that Cities in Texas considering such a drastic action should be required by new legislation to seek the voters’ approval.
“Any form of defunding over say 10 to 15 percent should be a voter decision, not the conclusion of a few relegated individuals who have a political reputation to protect,” he said.
Blanchard said he vehemently opposes defunding the police.
“It’s like buying a house or a car while demanding more from the seller, but at the same time offering less,” he said. “It’s not practical; it will not work.” When Blanchard took over the APPD back in 2012, he injected thousands of dollars, close to if not over $100K, the first few years into training. At that time, the PD was in desperate need of service improvement that could only come by way of reculturing and extensive training.
Blanchard said he has not heard any talk of defunding APPD.
“In fact, this year, we’ve received more funding,” he said. “The local City Council and City administration is committed to public safety.”
As an example, Blanchard said this year the Council added another emergency telecommunicator position to the budget.
“As a result, we will now have two 911 call takers around the clock,” he said. “This is a need we’ve had for the past several years, and the Council and City leadership remains committed to answering that need. We are blessed by the leadership we have and the wonderful community partnership we pride ourselves on maintaining.”
One reason for the absence of a call to defund the police in the Aransas Pass area could be a lack of issues that encourage this response.