BLUE MOUND, Texas — The chief of police in the Fort Worth suburb of Blue Mound abruptly resigned from his post on Thursday after claiming city leaders wanted to defund his department.
During a public hearing on the proposed Blue Mound city budget this week, former police chief Dusty Steele took off his badge and placed it in front of Mayor Darlene Copeland, performatively ending his tenure on the force.
Copeland and Steele have both since confirmed to WFAA that his resignation had also been more formally accepted.
The mayor did not deny Steele's claims that the city's new budget saw cuts to the police department's funding, but rather said his statements needed more context.
In an email to WFAA, Copeland said that every city department within Blue Mound, which is located approximately eight miles north of Fort Worth, would be seeing reductions to their upcoming budgets -- not just that of the police department, which employs nine full-time officers, three reserve officers and four full-time dispatchers.
According to Copeland, the police department still accounted for up to 54% of the city's general fund in the newly proposed budget -- an amount totaling close to $1 million for the community of 324 acres (or just over half a square mile). The remaining 46%, Copeland said, would be divvied up amongst all other departments.
Steele told WFAA that his concerns centered around the fact that his police department's budget had been set at $1.2 million per year as recently as 2020, and that the city was now asking that his department make up the difference through a separate coffer called a crime district budget -- a fund access by police and supported by a voter-supported, .5-cent Blue Mound sales tax that Steele said amounts to $144,000 each year.
Steele said that, in determining the new city budget, the mayor and council decided without his input that some of his officers' salaries, which had been previously covered by the police budget, had to now be covered by the crime district budget, which would normally be used to cover expenses like patrol vehicles and gear.
With his department's vehicles currently paid off heading into the new budget's planning, Steele said he hoped to use the crime district budget to fund retaining payments for two of his highest-performing officers, and to give pay raises to the rest of his department, whose salaries he said haven't changed in three years. But, Steele said, council told him that doing so would be unethical.
Steele disagreed with their assessment. The use of the crime district budget "should be my decision and no one else's," Steele told WFAA.
Earlier in the week, Steele posted to a Blue Mound Texas Police Department page on Facebook that he personally operated an update in which he accused Blue Mound's elected officials of "defunding the police."
As of Friday afternoon, that account no longer appears in public Facebook searches.
Mayor Copeland, meanwhile, said other departments would be more impacted by the proposed budget cuts than the police department. She did not specify which departments within the city, which has a population of under 2,500 people, would be hurt the most.
"Like many other cities, times are hard, inflation is at an all time high and hard decisions have to be made when it comes to budget," Copeland said. "There was never any suggestion or discussion about defunding the police. That was misinformation put out on a Facebook page that was not a city-run Facebook page."
With Steele out, Copeland confirmed to WFAA that Blue Mound is actively searching for its next police chief.
First, though, Copeland and her city council have to formally accept and approve their proposed city budget.