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L.A. police union spurns City Hall’s request to meet on the budget crisis

Officers in front of the Los Angles Police Department headquarters, seen in 2015.
The union that represents Los Angeles police officers said it had no intention of meeting with city negotiators to discuss the ongoing budget crisis.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

The union that represents more than 9,800 Los Angeles police officers has rejected a request from the city’s labor negotiators to meet and discuss the city’s financial crisis, dealing a fresh setback to Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council as they struggle to close a looming budget deficit.

Craig Lally, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said in a letter to the city’s chief employee relations officer that the LAPD had already received a $150-million budget cut this year, with some of the savings used to delay reductions at other city agencies.

Lally said in his three-page letter, which was distributed to the union’s members, that officers had spent months on the front lines of the city’s COVID-19 response while contending with “protests, riots and professional sports ‘celebrations’ that devolved into chaos.”

LAPD officers have been “hit in the head with bricks, had urine thrown at them, attacked with frozen water bottles and even injured with eye-damaging lasers,” Lally said in the letter, which was sent Friday and ended with the message “We wish you luck.”

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The union’s response reflects some of the deep divisions between the LAPD’s rank-and-file and the elected officials charged with balancing the city’s books amid a pandemic. The union has already expressed deep dissatisfaction with Police Chief Michel Moore over his handling of this year’s protests and posted a video criticizing Garcetti’s police commissioners over the city’s recent increase in homicides and shooting victims.

Garcetti and the council face a projected revenue shortfall of at least $400 million, a figure equal to nearly all of the city’s reserve funds. A more dire scenario has put the deficit at $600 million, or nearly a tenth of the city’s general fund, which pays for police, firefighters and other core services.

“Pandemic-driven revenue loss has put the city in dire financial straits,” Garcetti spokesman Alex Comisar said in a statement Monday. “Now is a critical time to be at the table with all employee representatives to discuss cost-cutting options.”

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The exchange between the union and city leaders spanned a bloody weekend in Los Angeles. On Sunday, a woman who was seven months pregnant was shot to death shortly before noon while she sat in a parked car in Wilmington.

Two other women were gunned down earlier that day outside an underground warehouse party in South Los Angeles, police said. And in L.A.'s Arts District, a tow truck driver was shot to death Sunday evening as he worked on a stalled vehicle, police said.

In addition, police said, there were at least another six incidents across the city where people were shot but survived.

The City Council voted to cut the LAPD budget in July, reducing the number of police officers to 9,757 — the department’s lowest staffing level since 2008. Garcetti and the council announced the cut during massive citywide protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

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Council members put a portion of the $150-million cut into a fund set up to delay furloughs for civilian workers, which are now scheduled to begin in January. City leaders also attempted to save money through an employee buyout program, but that initiative is expected to yield only $2.6 million.

On Nov. 10, city negotiators sent the LAPD union a letter asking for a meeting to discuss the league’s contract, which contained a series of raises, including a combined 4.8% increase for the current fiscal year and a 3% increase scheduled for January 2022.

Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents neighborhoods stretching from Westchester to Brentwood, said Monday that the union’s refusal to meet or make concessions would threaten public safety, triggering cuts to emergency preparedness, neighborhood police patrols, gang intervention programs and LAPD’s civilian staffing.

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Bonin, who has been at odds with the union for months, has repeatedly called for the league to postpone its pay increases, in part because the LAPD consumes more than half of the city’s discretionary funds.

“It is incredibly disappointing that our largest union has turned its back on the people of Los Angeles, and is refusing to even discuss actions that will spare cuts to vital city services, such as helping renters avoid eviction, feeding hungry seniors, and supporting small businesses,” Bonin said Monday in an email.

Bonin has drawn the ire of the union by coming out publicly against any cuts at the Fire Department, which he said is on the “front lines” of the fight against climate change. The firefighters union received a 4.75% raise in July, and is on track to receive another 3% increase next summer.

The LAPD’s raises are expected to cost the city an additional $35 million this fiscal year, while firefighter pay hikes are on track to consume $19.3 million over the same period, according to the city’s top budget analyst.

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For months, activists have called in to public meetings demanding that the council defund or abolish the LAPD, arguing the money would be better spent on healthcare, mental health services and aid to renters. The union, in turn, called the $150-million reduction an arbitrary figure aimed at placating protesters.

Appearing last week on KPCC-FM’s “Airtalk,” Lally said Garcetti, the council and others in city government had treated the LAPD like “a punching bag.” He pointed out that the city was experiencing an uptick in crime, including a 25% increase in homicides.

Garcetti, in an interview that aired Sunday with KNBC’s Conan Nolan, said many cities across the country — including those that maintain police spending at existing levels — are seeing higher homicide numbers. Shifting some assignments, such as mental health calls, out of the LAPD and into other agencies will not make residents any less safe, he said.

“I am not a fan of ‘defund the police.’ I’m not a fan of abolishing the police. I think those things are wrong,” he said in the interview. “But at the same time, police can’t do everything.”


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