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Op-Ed: Los Angeles is going off a fiscal cliff. This is no time to give pay raises to the police

City Hall reflected on the Los Angeles Police Department building in downtown L.A.
The city budget is hurting, and police must make sacrifices for the common good, Councilman Mike Bonin writes.
(Nick Agro / For The Times)

Update: The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday declared a fiscal emergency and approved the furloughing of thousands of city workers.

Angelenos are about to feel a lot of pain — and our police union’s insistence on more money for raises is largely responsible.

In the middle of a deadly pandemic and an economic collapse, the city of Los Angeles is poised to declare a fiscal emergency. It is considering furloughing thousands of employees, cutting basic city services, and gutting programs that help our most vulnerable residents — all while giving big raises and bonuses to members of the police union. Those raises will have to be paid for by budget cuts that will make Los Angeles residents less healthy, less secure and considerably less safe.

Members of the police union are getting a 4.8% raise, plus $41 million in new educational bonuses, to the tune of about $123 million this fiscal year. They will get an additional raise in 2022. Meanwhile, the city is making $104 million in cuts to the salaries of other city employees through furloughs that will sharply reduce city services, including public safety programs.

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What’s on the chopping block? For starters, basic services, such as street resurfacing, adding traffic signals, sidewalk repair and maintaining parks and seasonal pools. What else? All the programs people have demanded in response to the real pain being felt by our neighbors: spending for affordable housing, renter assistance, lunch programs for our seniors and small-business support.

In the face of this pain, the police union has balked at deferring raises and has strenuously objected to any attempts to trim the LAPD’s nearly $3-billion budget, claiming it will lead to “mayhem,” to neighborhoods “overtaken by criminals hell-bent on destroying our city,” and to a celebration of “craven criminal behavior.”

Here’s what the police union doesn’t tell you, and doesn’t want you to know: The civilian furloughs needed to pay for police officers’ raises will mean that officers will have to leave the streets to back-fill desk jobs, resulting in a reduction of 220,000 hours of neighborhood patrols this year alone. Imagine what a detrimental impact that will have on 911 response times. By supporting this approach, the police union is insisting that Angelenos pay police officers more money to do less policing.

But that’s not all. The budget cuts will mean reduced emergency preparedness for wildfires and earthquakes, slow the purchase of Los Angeles Fire Department equipment and will cut gang intervention and youth development programs. The furloughs will increase cybersecurity risks. The cuts are an assault on public safety.

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It doesn’t have to be this way. Since April, I have been calling for the city to bring the Los Angeles Police Protective League back to the bargaining table, reopen negotiations and see if we can find a way to defer raises for a few years. It’s an appeal to the common good. Holding back on a pay hike would spare thousands of other employees from a 10% cut in pay, and spare millions of Angelenos from a sharp reduction in services. (And, yes, I have voluntarily cut my own pay by 10%.)

The union has refused, and frankly, city budget officials have been reluctant to even ask them, let alone pressure them. The idea that the police budget is sacrosanct is deeply ingrained in our local political culture. But we are heading off a fiscal cliff.

City budget analysts warn that declining revenues may force us to cut hundreds of millions more out of our $7-billion city budget. If LAPD — which accounts for about half of the city’s unrestricted spending — is exempt from cuts, it means potential cuts to almost everything else will be twice as deep. That’s real and lasting pain to the Angelenos we need to protect and serve.

One unwritten rule of Los Angeles politics is this: If you take on the police union, it will come after you — hard. It’s proving true. Since I have spoken out about the budget, criticized racial bias in LAPD traffic stops, and voiced support for the Black Lives Matter movement, the union has hit me with accusations and smears, mailers and social media videos.

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I won’t be bullied. We are experiencing an unprecedented economic collapse. Unemployment in Los Angeles County is nearly 18%. Angelenos are going hungry. Families are losing their homes. Businesses are closing. In the middle of this municipal fiscal emergency, we need to use every dollar available to help people.

Asking the police union to defer raises to spare people more pain in this time of crisis is not too much to ask.

Mike Bonin is the Los Angeles city councilman for the 11th District.


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