Let’s make smart budget cuts to LAPD that invest in public health and safety for all

By Councilmember Mike Bonin 

Mike Bonin represents the 11th District for the City of Los Angeles

Editor’s Note: The operating budget of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is over $1.8 billion. City officials have proposed cutting up to $150 million from that budget in the coming fiscal year. Critics say those cuts are not enough to dramatically change policing in the city of Los Angeles. We asked Councilmember Mike Bonin, who represents the Westside, to weigh in.

How do we keep our neighborhoods safe? As we reprioritize our city budget in the middle of a public health crisis, a deep recession, and massive civil unrest, that question is going to spark a heated debate at City Hall.

Historically, the answer to that question has been to consistently and reflexively increase the budget of the LAPD. And unless we change it, the budget that goes into effect July 1 sticks to that approach and makes deep cuts in almost everything else while increasing police spending. And, paradoxically, even though the budget spends more on the LAPD, it actually makes significant cuts to the neighborhood patrols that answer 911 calls.

A budget that spends more on LAPD but cuts neighborhood patrols doesn’t keep us safe. A budget that cuts emergency preparedness, and slows the purchase of LAFD equipment doesn’t keep us safe. A budget that cuts gang intervention and youth development programs doesn’t make us safe. A budget that cuts spending for affordable housing, renter assistance, senior services, and small business support doesn’t keep us safe. And a budget that cuts funds for parks, traffic signals, and sidewalk repair does not keep us safe.

Continually growing the LAPD at the expense of other vital programs impedes our essential mission to deconstruct the systemic racism that African Americans and other people of color experience daily in housing, employment, finance, health care, education, criminal justice, and policing. Increasing police spending while disinvesting in people hardens and deepens the divides and inequities in Los Angeles. It ignores the reality of the experiences that African Americans and people of color have with law enforcement.

We can do better. There is a way to reduce spending on the Los Angeles Police Department and increase public safety and public health. We can reopen employee contracts, defer raises, and cut overtime. We can use those funds to prevent painful cuts this year, including to 911 response and begin to build a budget that keeps us safe by investing in a healthy and prosperous city that delivers services for all. We can invest in Community Safety Partnerships that develop neighborhood-led public safety strategies. We can invest in preventing eviction and homelessness, so we don’t have to pay for costly solutions later. We can invest in more youth programs and gang intervention, so young people have more opportunities to thrive. We can invest in supporting our small businesses so that our businesses don’t fold and lay off workers. We can invest in safer streets and parks for our kids. We can invest in expanding services to our seniors who are isolated and in need.

As we embark on aggressive reform of policing in Los Angeles, we need to rethink an approach that demands a police response for every problem. We have created a system that uses our sworn police officers for tasks they are not trained for, and not suited for. Police officers should not be first responders to homelessness or mental illness. Police officers don’t need to be personal escorts for shuttles to and from emergency homeless shelters or traffic officers at LAUSD Grab & Go lunch programs. Instead, we can hire social workers, mental health professionals, community-based goodwill ambassadors, and more traffic control personnel.

This approach is fiscally responsible. This is the right response to a public health pandemic. This is how we prove that we mean it when we say #BlackLivesMatter. This is how we keep our neighborhoods safe.