A mailer sent out by the San Diego Police Officers Association attacking San Diego Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

So we’ve been getting a lot of calls about a mailer.  

The San Diego Police Officers Association sent it to damage San Diego Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe’s image as she runs for the county supervisor seat former County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher vacated. 

This specific mailer has a lot of messages.  

But let’s focus on this statement: “Supported defunding the police department. Despite a historic police staffing crisis, City Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe sought to slash the city’s police budget.” 

It’s attributed to our news reporting. 

First, some context: In the five years Montgomery Steppe has been in office, she has voted to approve every budget – including the one the City Council passed in 2020 when hundreds of people were calling for defunding the department in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police.  

Each time she has voted yes, the police department’s budget has increased.  

She has, however, asked for cuts to the police overtime budget. And requested a study that could identify, “potential reprogramming opportunities.” In other words, reallocating funding from police. 

That largely didn’t happen. Police spending has continued to increase.  

Mongomery Steppe declined to comment.  

The Police Officers Association is standing by the mailer. 

Here are the facts about what she said and did.  

What Montgomery Steppe Said  

Council President Pro Tem Monica Montgomery Steppe in City Council Chambers in downtown on June 13, 2023.
Council President Pro Tem Monica Montgomery Steppe in City Council Chambers in downtown on June 13, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

On June 8, 2020, after the murder of George Floyd and the protests it provoked, hundreds of commenters demanded the City Council cut $100 million from the police budget. The public comment period alone was nearly 12 hours long.  

No one on the City Council supported or proposed cuts during that meeting. 

Montgomery Steppe voted to approve the budget.  

She was, however, sympathetic to the outrage over the treatment of Black people by law enforcement officers across the country. She focused her comments on equity and disparity issues in the city.  

Mongomery Steppe was open to reconsidering the police department’s role in the city.  

Here’s what she told us then: “I do want everyone to know that I really do believe that we need to look at the way we provide public safety. I think our officers are charged to do too many things and over the long term we need to look at reallocation, and allowing officers to do what they were originally charged to do. There are examples across the nation. But I really want to see what that looks like and have a plan for it.” 

She got funding for an Office of Racial Equity. The new group would address structural inequality across city departments and control a $3 million fund that it could invest in communities or use to partner with nonprofit groups working in racial justice.  

Where She Got Close  

There was a lot of backlash to the vote that day to approve the budget. In response, she released a statement. As we reported then, she came close to embracing the defund movement, but did not use the word “defund.”  

Here’s what she said: “As the sole Black San Diego City Councilmember, I can promise the community that I did everything within my power to have the hard conversations around diverting funding and repurposing it for social and economic justice programming.”  

She also said she was, “committed to developing a plan that can reasonably and responsibly address diverting funds from SDPD.” 

The hard conversations: As we reported, days after the June vote, then-Council President Georgette Gómez said she would have cut the police budget but did not have the votes. Gómez told us then that she and Montgomery Steppe spent the weekend looking for a way to cut police spending, but they couldn’t get there.  

The Council had already agreed to a new labor deal with the police and there wasn’t much else to consider. 

The Police Officers Association points to that conversation as her attempt and “desire” to cut the police budget.  

“Based on her own statements and attempts to cut the police budget, the statement contained in the SDPOA mailer that she ‘sought to slash the City’s police budget’ is entirely and unambiguously true,” a press release issued by the union reads.  

However, a quote identified in their press release from a June 11, 2020, Voice article, reads as if it came from Montgomery, but it was a quote from Gómez.  

Here is it: “We couldn’t get there,” she said (Gómez). “It’s not because we didn’t try, we just couldn’t get there. There wasn’t a straight path to say, ‘We’re going to remove $10 million, and it’s going to come from this,’ because we needed more time.”  

‘Reprogramming Opportunities’  

San Diego City Hall
San Diego City Hall / File photo by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran

On June 9, 2020, Montgomery Steppe asked the city’s Independent Budget Analyst to dig into the police budget and identify “potential reprogramming opportunities” that could be discussed in the future.  

“It is critical that core services to public safety are not sacrificed and reprogramming is done effectively and responsibly,” Montgomery Steppe wrote in her request.  

In an interview with Voice, Montgomery Steppe said public protests and unprecedented budget activism created an opportunity that the city couldn’t miss.  

She told Voice the IBA analysis needed to inform a conversation about changing SDPD. She wanted to have a plan for when the city considered the budget for the next fiscal year – and when there would be new members on the council and a Democrat in the mayor’s office.  

Montgomery Steppe said then that spending less money on SDPD was a priority.  

The IBA released that report in October 2020.  

In 2021, Montgomery Steppe published an op-ed for Voice arguing that public safety is more than policing. She called for a “holistic approach to safety that addresses root causes of issues and invests in the health and well-being of communities.”  

She planned to ask for a $10 million cut in the police overtime budget. She wanted those funds to be reallocated to youth programs, community needs and homelessness.  

“[Reallocation] is about finally prioritizing the communities that have been left behind,” Montgomery Steppe said at a June 14, 2021, City Council meeting. “My community members want officers; my community members also want resources.”  

The overtime cut didn’t happen.  

The mayor’s proposed budget, though, called for increased police spending and she voted to approve it.

Andrea Lopez-Villafaña, Managing Editor, Daily News Andrea oversees the production of daily news stories for Voice of San Diego. She welcomes conversations...

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  1. Let’s face it. She’s right. Cops shouldn’t be doing some of the things we have placed on them. Instead of working with Monica to build a better public safety apparatus using more than just force and jails they continue to jeopardize all of us with their politicking and greed.

    1. The article says nothing about what you just posted, but I guess you work for her so you have to post this comment trying to support.

  2. Since she’s running for this special election, suddenly, they buried these facts > 1. she is ecstatic to be in the state reparation taskforce . So unpopular, they have to bury this. Why are you not mentioning this ? 2. she is not supportive of policemen. 3. she is anti housing providers and wants ‘justice’ for tenants [ and you wonder why we have no supply here in such a hostile , and an abundance in red states where they support individual investors , many who are mom&pop retirees , NOT big govt public housing].

  3. So she was FOR defunding the police until she realized that pro-criminal was the losing side. Now she wants to give the police funding to BLM …because they have been so so effective. Her 15 minutes ar e up.

  4. Why are we trying to replicate the mistakes seen in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle? Does anyone truly believe San Diego needs to replicate their policies?

    Monica supports those policies which destroyed these once magnificent cities. It’s now election time and her messaging is changing – surprise! Even though VOSD trod lightly on the defunding movement – Monica WOULD have defunded the police if she had the votes. Remember how Newsome changed his messaging during the recall – quickly deviating from his promises of moderation when he won? Remember Biden promised to be the adult who would meet in the middle before his election, veering sharply left after he won? We are in a mess today and deserve it, due to voting people like Monica into office. We know defunding does not work. We know putting people back on the street does not work. We know enabling bad behavior does not make good behavior. I only hope we finally wake up and look at politicians’ past records compared to their false promises to win an election. That is unless – you truly believe Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle are better – pillar examples of outstanding cities San Diego should mirror after.

    Insanity is doing the same thing, yet expecting a different outcome. The last few years have truly been insane.

  5. So basically if she had enough votes to defund the police, she would have. Why on earth did it take so many words to say that?

  6. It’s a strange fact check. Usually there is an answer to the question. In this case I guess it is up to the reader to make a conclusion. Maybe that isn’t a bad thing. The statement by the police union was that she “supported” not “voted” for defunding the police. Note also how progressive politicians like to use spin by changing the word they use to “reallocate”. When you see words such as “reallocate” funding, it means “defunding”. In my humble opinion the fact check is true. It’s a fact that she supported defunding the SDPD.

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