"When I realized that budget time was coming, we always hear, 'When you want something, you have to find a way to pay for it,'" Plummer said during a Facebook Live event discussing the reforms June 4. "I knew I had to make sure there were things I wanted for our community and the protections I wanted for my children and my community and especially black and brown communities."
The revisions, in the form of budget amendments, propose eliminating 199 vacant positions within the Houston Police Department and reallocating the $11.4 million saved toward new initiatives, such as granting the independent police oversight board authority to conduct its own misconduct investigations rather than reviewing ones performed by Houston Police Department. It also calls for $1 million toward an online complaint portal, $3 million for enhanced de-escalation training and funding toward various crime diversion programs.
Another proposal called for diverting funds from one of the incoming police cadet classes and instead use it toward a mental health response team for calls such as welfare checks and public intoxication.
"It doesn't tear anyone down. It doesn't take anything from anyone," Plummer said. "It gives layers of power and strength and it gives opportunity to people who just don't have a voice right now."
While not specifically addressing Plummer's amendments, the Houston Police Officers Union published a letter June 5 supporting some calls for change, such as the release of body camera videos, and also stated that some reforms being discussed, such as de-escalation training and banning chokeholds, are already addressed in the department's policies and supported by the union.
Dozens of Houston residents called into a public hearing on the budget asking for similar reforms to Houston Police Department on June 3.
"I listened and I wanted to make sure that whatever we dropped as budget amendments was what the community wanted," Plummer said. "After we listened to the meeting, I told my team when we are on the right page."
The budget hearing came the day after a 60,000-person march honoring the life of Houston native George Floyd. Floyd grew up in Houston’s Third Ward and was killed in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department on May 25. A video of his death, as well as news of the two high-profile deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, both of whom were black, set off days of unrest throughout the U.S. beginning in late May.
The draft budget, prepared by the mayor’s office and the city finance department, has gone through significant changes since its proposal. As recently as June 2, a decision to furlough 3,000 city employees and defer all five incoming police cadet classes was reversed when the city received more flexibility from the federal government about how it can spend its $404 million allocation of CARES Act funding.
Referencing a 2016 audit from independent consulting firm PFM stating that Houston’s police force has been chronically understaffed when compared to other major U.S. cities, Mayor Sylvester Turner has made hiring additional police officers a goal during both of his terms.
In a May 28 letter, HPOU President Joe Gamaldi did not call for specific policy changes but appealed to police officers to step in when witnessing misconduct.
"If a fellow officer on your scene is doing something that you believe is wrong, from what you see and feel, you have an obligation and a duty to step up and speak up," Gamaldi wrote in the letter. "The time to correct that is not a week later by filing some anonymous complaint."
A large portion of the police department budget is dictated by negotiations between the mayor and the Houston Police Officers Union, which are a separate process from city council’s annual budget vote. The negotiations are ongoing and the current three-year contract expires Dec. 31, 2020.
Budget amendments are subject to the mayor's review and revisions, and must be backed by a majority of the council to be formally adopted.
The full budget amendment proposal can be viewed below.
Editor's note: This post has been updated for clarity.