Protesters gather on 6th Avenue, where San Diego Police officers shot and wounded a Latino man earlier that day. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

More San Diego County residents support reallocating police funding toward social services than those who oppose it, a Voice of San Diego poll found.

Forty-nine percent of respondents said they supported taking a significant amount of funds currently going toward local police departments and the county Sheriff’s Department and instead using them for mental health services, substance abuse treatment and job-training programs, while 41 percent said they opposed redistributing funding and 10 percent weren’t sure or didn’t respond.

The Voice Poll, conducted by FM 3 Research between Oct. 8-20, surveyed 712 San Diego County residents reached via a mix of landline and cell phone calls and online surveys. (You can see the crosstabs for the police funding question here.)

Respondents’ receptiveness to diverting police funding varied significantly by age, gender, political affiliation and race.

A majority of women, people of color – a group that includes those who identified as Latino, Black, Asian, multiracial or another group – and people between the ages of 18 and 49 years old said they supported reallocating funding. Those who identified as Democrats or independents favored shifting funding; while an overwhelming majority of those who self-identified as Republicans opposed it.

Though the poll suggests the public is open to efforts to reallocate funding away from policing, officials at all level of government have expressed a wariness – or outright hostility – to doing so.

Earlier this year, the San Diego City Council rebuffed pleas from hundreds of residents to slash the San Diego Police Department’s budget and instead increased funding to the department by $27 million.

“The mayor expressed that if we were to touch the budget on (the police department), he would have vetoed our budget,” Council President Georgette Gómez told the VOSD Podcast in June. “I had that conversation with him, and it was pretty clear … so I knew that I needed to have six Council members to override that veto. I didn’t have that.”

At the county level, Republicans have indicated diverting Sheriff’s Department funds won’t be on the table if the party retains control of the Board of Supervisors.

“I don’t at all support defunding the police in any fashion,” Poway Mayor Steve Vaus, who’s running in District 2, told Voice of San Diego earlier this month. “Anything that’s going to weaken or diminish the ability for our law enforcement officers to respond would be a nonstarter for me.”

The current Republican-led board did vote last year to implement new lower pensions for newly hired deputy sheriffs.

And at the state level, Gov. Gavin Newsom last month vetoed a bill passed by the Legislature with overwhelming support that would have established a pilot program to have community-based organizations serve as first responders instead of the police. Newsom wrote in his veto message that he supported the bill’s underlying goal but didn’t think the state Office of Emergency Services was the appropriate agency to host the program.

Julia Yoo, a San Diego civil rights attorney and president of the National Police Accountability Project, said she believes it will take time for politicians to begin to act on residents’ desire for change.

“There is such a movement in the community, but it is frustrating the lawmakers don’t seem to be listening to the loud voices. It takes time. It takes political will. It takes leadership,” she said. “This is the most prolonged movement I have seen in my career, so I’m extremely hopeful that there will be an appropriate response by lawmakers to the demand of defunding.”

Political affiliation was a major indicator of whether a poll respondent was likely to support reallocating police funding to social services.

Among those who self-identified as Democrats, 69 percent supported shifting funding, while 79 percent of those who self-identified as Republicans opposed it. Democrats currently outnumber registered Republican voters countywide, 40 percent to 28 percent.

Yet even many Democratic politicians have been hesitant to embrace calls to defund police departments.

Both of the Democratic candidates for mayor of San Diego, Assemblyman Todd Gloria and City Councilwoman Barbara Bry, have said they don’t support the movement to “defund” the police.

California’s top law enforcement official, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, is a Democrat who’s expressed an interest in police reform but said at Voice of San Diego’s Politifest that defunding police “is not something I could ever support.” He also acknowledged, though, that police officers are often asked to perform social service roles that they’re not equipped to handle.

“I hope in 10 or 20 years, we’re really not asking cops to do the work of social workers. We’re not because they’re not trained to be social workers or mental health workers or substance abuse workers. Let’s have them do public safety work,” he said.

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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