Over the weekend, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) announced an enormous downsizing of its force due to an upcoming $150 million budget slash approved earlier this year.
Many bureaus and units, including robbery, homicide, gang units, narcotics units, and homeless outreach will all see significant downsizing in the coming months. Air support will also be reduced, with officer response to traffic collisions, hit-and-runs, and other smaller incidents being cut totally in favor of having citizens involved filing reports online. Areas with general less serious crime, such as Hollywood and Venice, will also see a cut in special deployments, with station desks also to be manned during weekday hours only.
Community engagement and patrol will absorb any displaced officers as a result of the massive change, with patrol in particular being expanded by 234 officers. However, overall, there will be an ultimate reduction in sworn officers by 350, lowering the number of LAPD officers from 10,110 to 9,752. Civilian employee numbers will also see a significant drop. Outright firings are not expected to take place, as cuts are to come from retirements and leaving open posts vacant.
“We need to offload a number of responsibilities,” said LAPD Chief Michel Moore during the weekend. “Police shouldn’t be frontline responders in every situation.”
Moore specifically identified cases involving homelessness, mental illness, and minor traffic incidents as areas where police are frequently called on despite not being needed.
“We need to continue to identify calls that we are no longer going to respond to and look for other agencies and organizations to hand that baton to,” added Moore. “But the shift to other agencies is not going fast enough and it’s not going deep enough.”
While unarmed teams specifically trained for certain nonviolent 911 calls are currently being developed by Los Angeles, the teams are not yet widespread and will most likely not be in place by March when the police shifts are expected to be completed by.
A $150 million cut
The cuts were caused primarily by the economic downturn brought on by COVID-19 earlier this year and a large movement led by Black Lives Matter (BLM) to defund the police. In June, the LA City Council proposed the $150 million cut, noting that the LAPD could no longer afford to pay police working overtime due to COVID-19 and the George Floyd protests eating up all overtime money set aside for the entire year. In July, they passed it, causing the BLM and other citizen groups to celebrate.
“It’s still nowhere near where we wanted it defunded to,” explained LA BLM protestor and community organizer Kamika Gray. “We wanted it cut down by a lot more with that money going to community services to alleviate those systemic problems at the base so future police action wouldn’t be needed. But it is a cut in the right direction.
“It means less homeless harassment, less harassment of people with mental disorders, and less harassment of people of color. We need prevention workers and people trained on how to handle those things. Not more police.”
However, many police groups and organizations have decried the cuts, noting that they are coming at a time when homicides and other violent crimes are on the rise.
“These cuts can’t come at a worse time, and our neighbors will be less safe. It’s going to be catastrophic,” said LA police union president Craig Lally. “There’s nothing good that’s going to come out of this, and it’s only going to get worse. This is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Others have said that less money will not equate to better policing.
“You cannot expect to have a police department remain functional by saying they have less to work with now,” said said former police officer and current police consultant Jake Snyder to the Globe. “And we’re going through trying times right now, when violence and other crimes are on the rise.
“I’ve helped many police departments across the country figure out solutions for possible budget issues, and it’s never easy to find an area to reduce. Look at LA. It’s fine if they want to development better mental illness and homeless response units. It’s honestly for the better. But they are reducing it when they don’t have a solid plan put into place. That’s not great.
“And they want to cut officers responding to some traffic incidents. Well, what if they become violent? What if it becomes he said, she said? How many times is an officers testimony used by, say, a insurance dispute? Or used in a hit-and-run case?
“Yes, they may not be trained for it, but officers are often-times a comforting figure to people. When I was an officer, we got letters from not only hit-and-run victims, but also the people who did it because of how we comforted them and told them the next steps in what to do in calling their insurance company or whatever. Our presence can do that, even now in a time where more and more people distrust the police.
“All-in-all this is disastrous for the LAPD. They’re losing homicide and narcotics units when they need them the most and not having a fully formed idea where to go from here.”
LAPD rank-and-file disappointed by cuts, say cuts will only make their jobs even more difficult
The Globe also reached out to “Juan,” currently a LAPD officer, on the upcoming cuts.
“Homicides shot up this year,” Juan explained to the Globe. “We’ll probably have 300 murders city-wide for the first time in over a decade. It’s that bad out here.
“And these cuts, they’re hurting us. They’re stopping us from protecting and serving the city and its people. We’re losing gang units over this, and I know that will only lead to more coming out of the woodwork.
“I don’t speak for LAPD officers, but I will say that, for those people who want to defund us and calling us fascists and hating us because we’re simply cops, that we won’t stop protecting people and defending people. If a person who has been calling for us to be cut by 90% calls in and says their apartment is being broken in to, we won’t stop. We’ll get there as soon as possible. We’ll do what we can and we won’t stop.
“But you’re just making it harder for us to do our job. You’re putting less of us out there to defend you.
“I don’t really know what else to say. I don’t know where else they can cut right now unless they want to take away our retirement.”
Further cuts next year are expected. Los Angeles is expected to reduce their budget even further sometime next year due to a still lowered tax base as a result of the COVID-19 economic downturn and continued public pressure to defund the police even more.