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As ‘defund LAPD’ becomes a rallying cry, Garcetti will seek cuts up to $150 million

LAPD officers outside their headquarters  as demonstrators gather  Tuesday.
LAPD officers outside their headquarters in downtown Los Angeles as demonstrators gather Tuesday.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

When Los Angeles was plunged into a budget crisis earlier this year, progressive activists demanded that the City Council slash spending at the Police Department, saying it’s wrong to boost funding for officers while cutting other urgently needed services.

The debate over police spending at City Hall has only intensified after several days of protests against police brutality, the LAPD’s response to those demonstrations and the looting that sometimes followed.

Activists with Black Lives Matter, Ground Game LA and other grassroots groups say incidents in recent days where officers have used aggressive tactics including projectiles and batons only reinforce the need to defund the LAPD.

“This crisis that we are facing now, with police violence, has got people thinking, ‘Is this what we want?’” said Akili, an organizer with Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, who goes by only his last name.

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Akili touted an alternative spending plan for City Hall, dubbed the People’s Budget, that would cut the vast majority of the LAPD’s funding. But other community leaders, and at least some elected officials, say the recent outbreak in looting, vandalism and arson shows precisely why the city needs the number of officers it has.

“Ten thousand officers were barely able to keep the peace,” said Councilman Paul Koretz, whose Westside district includes Beverly Boulevard, Melrose Avenue and other business districts where looting occurred. “Imagine if we didn’t have the response that we did.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti had originally proposed a 7% spending increase for the LAPD, including a lucrative package of raises and bonuses for rank-and-file officers. But Wednesday, a day after thousands of protesters chanted “defund the police” outside his Windsor Square home, Garcetti said he had changed course, deciding now is not the time to increase the department budget.

Garcetti said his administration would look for $250 million in cuts from city departments, including the LAPD, and steer the funds to invest in job programs, health initiatives and other services supporting the black community and other communities of color. As part of those reductions, the LAPD would see cuts of $100 million to $150 million, he said.

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Council President Nury Martinez and several of her colleagues proposed the same reductions for the LAPD, which could eliminate the increase planned in Garcetti’s budget.

“While a complete overhaul of the city’s budget will take time, we can begin to slowly dismantle those systems that are designed to harm people of color,” Martinez said. “A preliminary cut to the LAPD budget will not solve everything, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

Progressive activists said those actions do not go far enough. Meanwhile, leaders of the LAPD’s biggest union were furious with Martinez’s choice of words, saying they were “offensive” and dehumanized police officers.

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The City Council, which normally reviews and approves the mayor’s budget each year, had allowed Garcetti’s citywide spending plan to go into effect on Monday without a vote.

But council members also promised to make changes to his budget in the coming weeks to address a major crunch triggered by the shutdowns that have accompanied the coronavirus outbreak.

Garcetti’s budget, first proposed in April, called for police spending to consume 53.8% of the city’s “unrestricted” general fund revenue — taxes that are not earmarked for special purposes or certain fees, fines and grants. The LAPD makes up 17.6% of the city’s overall $10.5-billion budget, a figure that does not include police pensions and healthcare, according to city budget officials.

Protesters gather outside L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti's house in Windsor Square on Tuesday.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
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The amount of police spending in L.A. has long been a source of frustration for activists. This year, Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles teamed up with other grassroots organizations to survey Angelenos about their budget priorities and draft their People’s Budget.

Under their alternative spending plan for the coming year, police would receive only 5.7% of the city’s general fund — a reduction of nearly 90% compared with the mayor’s budget.

Ground Game LA, one of the groups involved in the People’s Budget LA coalition, said 9,000 of the LAPD’s 10,000 officers should be replaced with tenants’ rights workers, mental health counselors, gang intervention workers and others who could address pressing social needs.

“I don’t think there’s any way to get a 90% reduction without layoffs, and that would be OK,” said Bill Przylucki, executive director of Ground Game LA. “But if they lay them all off and then hoard the money, that’s not a solution. We need to reinvest those dollars in all the right programs.”

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Przylucki said the LAPD had shown repeatedly over the years that it was not capable of keeping the peace in a way that de-escalates confrontation — and that the skirmishes of the past week only reinforced that lesson.

A coalition of labor and advocacy groups have pushed their own plan, urging Garcetti to cut the LAPD budget by at least $250 million. Neighborhood councils have chimed in as well.

On Monday, the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council to urge the city to redirect money from the LAPD to social services, rent relief and other programs. Julia Forgie, who sits on the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council, which took similar action, said at a meeting this week that she was worried Garcetti would use recent events to bolster support for his budget.

“It’s important that we sort of reframe the conversation preemptively, to make sure that [city officials] understand that these events don’t indicate that we need more funding for police,” she said.

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Lee Williams, board chairman of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce, voiced alarm at the idea of cutting the LAPD. If the department has fewer officers, he said, response times will go up, community policing programs will suffer, and the neighborhood will be less safe overall.

“That would be crushing for San Pedro,” said Williams, a San Pedro resident himself.

Los Angeles Police Protective League President Craig Lally, whose union represents rank-and-file officers, said defunding the LAPD would leave neighborhoods vulnerable to crime and serve as a “dream come true for gang members and criminals.” Such cuts would mean slower responses to 911 calls, stalled investigations and fewer officers able to assist when fellow officers need backup, he said.

During a marathon police commission meeting Tuesday, scores of residents directed anger and concern at LAPD Chief Michel Moore.

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If the People’s Budget proposed by activists becomes a reality, “the last several nights of mayhem in Los Angeles will be the new normal,” he said.

Council members have shown little appetite for cutting the LAPD as dramatically as outlined in the People’s Budget. But several said in recent days that they could not shield police officers from cuts when other employees were facing reductions.

Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents coastal neighborhoods, suggested asking the police union to postpone raises. Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who represents parts of South Los Angeles, said it’s hard for him to imagine that anyone following recent events would conclude that “a lack of police is our problem.”

Asked how many officers the LAPD should have, Harris-Dawson responded: “I don’t think there’s a right number. I’m a person who looks at outcomes.”

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Reducing the LAPD budget, he said, has to be part of the upcoming budget discussions. “We have to respond to the activists on the one side, who raise a very legitimate point, and we have to respond to reality” — that city officials will likely need to make more cuts to balance the budget, he said.

Times staff writer Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.


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