The City of Fort Lauderdale has a $311 million annual budget, and $95 million of it — 30 percent — is earmarked for the police force. The police get significantly more than any other city department.
And yet, according to an agenda item for today's 6:30 p.m. commission meeting, Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Frank Adderley will be asking the city for $140,000 to buy more ammunition.
Several local activists, however, are complaining about the request, arguing that the department should focus instead on better treatment of the homeless and nonwhite populations.
In an agenda memo, Adderley wrote that the department wants to buy more ammo to train for nonlethal shooting: “The purchase of ammunition is crucial in ensuring the FLPD is current in Police Officer training. This training allows officers to find viable non-deadly options and practice.” The ammunition will be used to “prepare officers to have effective responses to deadly threats with the safety of the community as our top priority.”
Jeff Weinberger is a local organizer for the Justice 4 Jermaine campaign, a movement seeking action against the Broward Sheriff’s Office for its handling of the shooting of an unarmed black man, Jermaine McBean, in Oakland Park two years ago.
“They don’t need more money for ammo,” Weinberger says. “They need to teach cops not to be racists and not to go around slapping defenseless homeless guys.”
Police violence, use of deadly force, and the role of race in police shootings have become hot topics nationally. In a yearlong investigative study, the Washington Post found that even though black men make up only 6 percent of the population, they account for 40 percent of unarmed men shot to death by police.
In Fort Lauderdale last year, four police officers were found to have sent text messages about "killing n***ers" and to have made a video depicting Barack Obama as a thuggish villain. In a separate incident, another officer took to his personal Facebook page and wrote "typical hoodrat behavior" as a caption for a photo of a black man being arrested. Fort Lauderdale has also made international headlines for passing laws cracking down on the homeless.
Weinberger says: “If the city’s going to invest money in police, it should be on de-escalation training and policing less, not more; on minding their own business in so many of the situations they poke their noses into, like harassing homeless folk and black kids in the neighborhood for crap like biking while black.” (A New Times investigation found that police stop black people more frequently than whites for failing to register their bicycles — and that the bike registration law was being used as a pretext to search people.)
Nathan Pim is a member of Food Not Bombs, an activist group that feeds homeless people. “Fort Lauderdale’s priorities are out whack,” Pim says. “Fort Lauderdale is a city whose funds seem to be entirely rubber-stamped towards its status as a classist, cruel, oppressive place.”
A study by data-crunching site Wallet Hub found that Fort Lauderdale spends more per citizen on its police force ($800 per person) than many other cities in the country but has one of the worst “returns on investment” — meaning that the higher price tag did not correlate to a lower crime rate.
On the 2016 annual budget, some of the things for which the Fort Lauderdale Police were allocated funds include eight new motorcycles, two more police horses, two barn aides, four new boat engines for marine patrols, ten new sets of dive gear, and $72,000 for a new performance analyst position. The budget says the department lost nine officers but would add seven new ones.
The money, though, for the ammo would come from the police confiscation fund, a pool of assets confiscated by police that is estimated to be $1.2 million this year. The ammo would be bought at Lawmen Shooter’s Supply and Florida Bullet Inc.
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According to the memo, the ammo purchase would support the city’s overall goal of becoming the “safest urban coastal city in South Florida” and to be a “well-trained, innovative, neighborhood-centric workforce that builds community.”
Fort Lauderdale Police did not respond immediately for comment. We’ll update this post if we hear back.
Mayor Jack Seiler assures New Times that commissioners will carefully debate the funds, keeping in mind public safety and the importance of equipping officers with necessary resources.
"We will analyze the reasonableness and the necessity of these additional weapons, ammunition, and related equipment before we approve," Seiler says. "Since public safety is the number-one duty of government, we need our law enforcement officers to have the necessary resources to complete their duties and fulfill their missions."