By Cynthia Gibson
VENICE — The impact of COVID-19-related budget cuts on public safety was at the center of Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin’s virtual Reimagining Public Safety Town Hall meeting with Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore last month.
Bonin, Moore and other LAPD leadership personnel, as well as representatives from the City Attorney’s office fielded questions from the public on crime and policing and how those issues might be affected by the city’s budget deficit.
“We are at a moment of deep pain and deep reckoning with our entire city budget,” Bonin told the 400 people who tuned into the two-hour forum. He and Chief Moore detailed police personnel and service cuts because of the deficit and how they would affect Venice and the other Westside neighborhoods in Council District 11, which Bonin represents.
The public forum was one of many outreach efforts Bonin has used to engage with his constituents on reimagining law enforcement’s scope of responsibilities in the wake of budget cuts and this summer’s Black Lives Matter-led protests.
“We are in a rare moment when we can look clearly at our budget and decide to provide more and better public safety, public health and emergency response by spending more on people and neighborhoods and less on LAPD and an armed response to every situation,” Bonin wrote in an Oped piece for a local community newspaper.
An August town hall focused on the case for defunding the police and featured Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles leader Melina Abdullah and other activists.
Officials have predicted budget cuts all year long, with the City Administrative Officer estimating a $675 million shortfall last week and recommending cuts to all city departments, including the LAPD. Pressure from Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles also led to the city cutting $150 million from the police budget.
The City Council requested that the LAPD reduce the number of officers by 350 during the current fiscal year and 250 by next fiscal year.
Moore said that those cuts would be accomplished through a process of attrition, where retired officers and civilian staff members would not be replaced. The City Council is also considering layoffs as part of the $150 million budget cut, as well as other cuts brought on by the budget deficit.
When asked about how budget cuts will impact service in Venice and other Council District 11 communities, Moore said there will be a dramatic downsizing in services, including 50% in the Venice Beach detail as a result of the department shrinking by 350 people. Beginning in early 2021, traffic collisions that do not involve a crime will be handled through an online portal.
“People will be directed to go and make their report online and that will then get them a copy for their insurance company or civil court or vehicle repair,” Moore said. “We simply don’t have the ability to continue to staff those functions when you look at the most pressing matters.”
Moore said that LAPD staffing levels as of April 2021 will be rolled back to 2007 levels, even though radio calls have increased 63% in that same time period. The front desks at local police stations will no longer be staffed 24 hours a day, he said. They would only be open Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Audience questions during the virtual town hall revolved around crime at homeless encampments in Venice.
Bonin said instead of focusing on crime, the focus should lie primarily with providing shelter and housing for unhoused people, such as motel rooms, hotel rooms and shared housing rental vouchers.
“The city needs to break its addiction on slow and expensive solutions and invest in immediate solutions that can actually get people off the street,” he said, pointing to A Bridge Home shelter project as part of the City’s overall plan to address homelessness.
Responding to a question about safely dealing with unhoused people with mental health issues, Moore said this should be the purview of medical professionals.
“It’s not a police matter and yet it becomes a police matter because there is no one else to take the call,” he said. “We need to come to terms with that and stop relying upon the police.”
Bonin added that help with the mental health crisis should come from Los Angeles County, since the county receives resources for public health. He brought up the possibility of the city of Los Angeles having its own public health department like the cities of Long Beach, Pasadena and Berkeley, where money for mental health services go directly to the cities.
Cynthia Gibson is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers Culver City and West Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.