ROCKLAND, Maine ― A new petition calls for city councilors to gradually defund the Rockland Police Department and reallocate its $2.2 million budget over the coming years to programs that promote community safety and well-being.
City councilors received the petition Monday night, and voiced support of it. They said they’ll discuss the issue more broadly at a later date.
“I welcome the opportunity to have a conversation about how to make our city a better and safer place for the people who are being underserved,” Rockland City Councilor Ben Dorr said. “This is just the beginning of a long process.”
Aside from defunding the police department, the petition also calls for mental health and social workers to be included on first-responder calls. Other demands include establishing greater support for people struggling with substance-use disorder, integrating anti-racism education into schools and reexamining the way the city “punishes poverty.”
The petition was signed by about 600 people as of Monday, according to Rockland resident Angela McIntrye, who initiated it. Only 135 of those signatures are from Rockland residents, she said.
“This conversation will not be easy,” McIntyre said. “To be clear, this is a gradual process to be revisited month after month and year after year.”
The petition comes following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer earlier this year that sparked a broader movement across the country demanding accountability for police brutality.
The Black Lives Matter organization has made defunding police departments one of its core demands. But not all who seek to defund police departments want to entirely abolish them.
In Rockland, petitioners are calling for city councilors to stop increasing the police budget and develop a plan to reinvest the department’s budget elsewhere, according to the petition.
Overtime, petitioners say the goal is to make the need for police obsolete because social workers trained in crisis intervention and de-escalation tactics could respond to many crisis situations.
“It’s challenging for our country to envision our society without the police,” said Matea Mills-Andruk, a Camden resident who spoke in support of the petition.
Rockland’s charter prohibits petitions on fiscal matters, according to Rockland City Clerk Stuart Sylvester. That means petitions can’t call for specific departments to be funded at certain levels.
But petitions can be used to advocate for ordinances, or repeal them, he said.
Before councilors can act on petitions, they require 500 signatures from registered city voters.
Former Rockland Mayor Will Clayton strongly urged the council on Monday to reject the petition outright.