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Officials, activists agree it’s time to ‘reimagine’ the LAPD, but they continue to spar over how

City Hall reflected on the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters in downtown L.A.
City Hall reflected on the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters in downtown L.A.
(Nick Agro / Los Angeles Times )

Convening the Los Angeles City Council’s special committee on police reform Wednesday, Councilman Herb Wesson Jr. cited the ongoing national movement for enhanced police accountability as an opportunity to reshape the Los Angeles Police Department.

“Instead of us dismissing or denying what’s going on in this country, I say let’s embrace it. Let’s let it take us as far as it can take us,” Wesson said. “If we are serious about being impactful, if we are serious about making real change, then this is our moment.”

Then, for the next hour, Wesson and the rest of the committee listened as members of the public called in to say that the committee wasn’t going far enough with the slate of reform measures before them and should instead focus on defunding and abolishing the police force altogether.

Most callers said they backed a motion by Wesson and others to limit police responses on incidents involving people experiencing mental health crises, but only as one step toward removing police from the streets entirely. They said police actions during recent protests must be examined but that a motion leaving that review to the LAPD itself was outrageous.

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“This is not good enough. We need to defund the police,” said one caller.

“Defund the police, or you will get voted out,” said another.

The exchanges mirrored others between the civilian-run Police Commission and local residents during a meeting of that panel on Tuesday, where LAPD commanders walked commissioners through a plan to increase officer training — including by providing additional de-escalation and anti-bias instruction — before callers castigated the commanders and the commission for pushing costly new measures instead of meeting protesters’ demands to cut police expenses.

“We expect you to defund police, not spend more money to train them,” said one caller.

Both meetings continued a broader trend in government locally and across the country in which officials have increasingly offered up police reforms, even ones long sought and never won before, and activists have pushed back to demand more. At the national level, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate are sparring over which police reforms to advance.

On Monday, the City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee agreed to cut more than $133 million from the LAPD budget, an amount that would have stunned longtime city observers a month before. Activists who pushed a separate “People’s Budget,” which would slash the LAPD’s roughly $3 billion annual budget by about 90%, said the cut fell far short.

Callers into Wednesday’s police reform committee meeting repeatedly raised the People’s Budget as their preferred option for “reimagining” public safety in the city as well.

The same term was used during a special meeting earlier this month between criminal justice reform advocates and council members to discuss the People’s Budget, where Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter-L.A., told officials that the public is saying “defund the police” but also “reimagine public safety.”

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“They’re saying we don’t want a system of policing that puts targets on the backs of Black people especially, but also is a regular assailant and traumatizer of our entire community,” Abdullah said at the June 15 meeting.

Instead of revisiting the People’s Budget, however, the committee on Wednesday pushed forward with the more modest measures its members and other council members had advanced.

One motion would have the LAPD work with other city and county agencies that handle health and homelessness issues to “develop an unarmed model of crisis response that would divert non-violent calls for service away from LAPD to the appropriate non-law enforcement agencies and related matters.”

Shifting responsibilities for responding to calls for service away from police and to other agencies is a key concept behind the “Defund Police” movement, but activists took issue Wednesday with any involvement of the LAPD in overseeing that shift.

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Several other motions called for reviews of the LAPD’s response to recent protests, including one that directs the LAPD to report back to the council on how it will investigate allegations of misconduct and what discipline will be imposed on officers who used excessive force against protesters.

Another motion would require more officers to wear body cameras, which critics questioned for its potential cost. Another would make it illegal to use the 911 system for frivolous or false emergency claims based on racial bias.

The panel voted to push all of the motions to the full council.

On Tuesday, the Police Commission took the LAPD’s new plan for officer training through 2020 under review but did not approve it.

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The decision to table the plan came after Commissioner Dale Bonner raised concerns about approving a large, multifaceted training program at a time when the city is considering a fundamental change of course around policing and how it is funded.

“There are going to be questions about how this fits into that broader paradigm,” Bonner said. “I just want to make sure that we are all grounding this conversation not only in reality but that we are setting ourselves and the whole process up for success and are doing what the community is demanding we do.”

At the meetings Tuesday and Wednesday, officials said that they know a new day has come and that they are doing their best to usher in changes — including a diminished role for police in non-violent incidents.

But they also at times pushed back against the notion that police should play no role in the city’s future.

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Councilman John Lee said the LAPD has made a lot of improvements over the years, but there is still a need to “reshape and reimagine how we respond to certain non-violent issues in the city.”

Councilman Paul Koretz, who sits on the police reform committee, said he supported all of the reform measures before the committee but believes efforts to defund or abolish the police would be “a step too far.”

“If we did what is being asked to do and we defunded the police, and in a week they were gone, I think that would be the worst decision the city council has ever made,” Koretz said. “I think the city would look a little bit like the movie ‘Purge.’”

Koretz said he believes many citizens who don’t call into council meetings feel the same way.


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