Wave Wire Services
LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Police Commission has approved an $18.5 million plan from the police department aimed at improving how it handles protests and civil unrest, but the City Council will need to approve the funding increase.
The Los Angeles Police Department — which has a $1.76 billion budget this fiscal year — had initially submitted a proposal seeking an additional $66.7 million to incorporate 106 recommendations from three reports that found the department mishandled aspects of its response to last year’s protests against racism and police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis.
The original request was reduced to $18.5 million when the police commission asked the LAPD to re-evaluate its recommendations and the cost.
The three reports were released in March and April and found common themes of lack of preparedness, training and unity of command.
The new proposal calls for nearly $12.6 million for training, with the top two priorities being mobile field force training and the use of less-lethal launchers, which the reports found officers weren’t properly trained in and in some circumstances used against peaceful protesters.
The report called for all department officers to receive mobile field force training every two years, with half the department being trained one year and the other half the next. Much of the funding for training is for overtime for officers, so that it does not cut into patrol duty.
The department’s proposed recommendations also include more than $4.1 million for technology and equipment, including for four officers and four intelligence analysts to form a new team monitoring social media. The budget would also purchase social media software. Commander Randy Goddard told the police commission that social media software helps the department “due to the volume of information across so many platforms, channels, apps, and services.”
“Software assists a small group of trained personnel in vetting and making sense of this information,” Goddard said.
The LAPD’s use of social media has already drawn some criticism. The Brennan Center for Justice, a nonprofit think tank based at New York University School of Law, reported on Sept. 8 that the department gives broad authorization to its officers to collect social media data from people they interact with on patrol.
It also found that the department is set to begin using a new social media surveillance tool called Media Sonar, which identifies connections between people and builds individual profiles using data from 300 sources with 2 billion records.
Brian Hofer, who chairs Oakland’s Privacy Advisory Commission, joined the commission meeting and said the department should create guardrails to prevent the software from being misused.
“Products like Media Sonar and Dataminr are not benign,” Hofer said. “They can be extremely invasive to our privacy and civil liberties interests because they provide analytical tools, that’s what you’re purchasing.”
“Sufficient guard rails need to be put in place to distinguish between tracking people simply because they’re using hashtag BLM versus some organizer for the Proud Boys saying ‘show up with baseball bats and a bag of bricks.’ … That’s where you need to be able to draw those lines with community input to ensure that use is appropriate.”
Goddard said the department would work to establish guardrails in an update to its 2015 social media guide, and Hofer said the department should periodically report to the commission on use of the products.
The budget request was met with opposition from activists calling for a continued decrease to the LAPD’s budget. Following a scaled-back proposal from $66.7 million to $18.5 million that was released Sept. 24, four days before the Police Commission meeting, activists reiterated their opposition to any additional funding for the LAPD.
“This is yet another police money grab, using LAPD’s violence to increase police resources and spy powers,” the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition said. “This is the opposite of what our communities faced down LAPD violence last summer to demand: defunding the police.”
The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, Los Angeles Community Action Network, Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, White People 4 Black Lives and the National Lawyers Guild of Los Angeles signed a letter to the police commission urging them to reject the proposal and commit to reducing the LAPD’s budget.
“This is the moment to stop expanding an institution that keeps harming our communities. The interpersonal harms that our communities face have been produced by years of police consuming more and more resources that could instead be used for housing, health care, education and other investments that actually keep people safe and healthy,” the letter stated.
Commissioner Eileen Decker responded to those concerns.
“I do understand that there are many who believe that the money should not be spent on this department, that it should go elsewhere,” Decker said. “I understand that the city does need to invest in community resources, but I also believe the city needs to invest in the department, as well as in these training procedures. These issues I don’t think are mutually exclusive.”