By Ray Richardson
LOS ANGELES — Community activists are not optimistic that the Los Angeles Police Department will make significant changes in how officers respond to mental health incidents.
Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles President Melina Abdullah said LAPD officials have given little indication that changes are being considered in the aftermath of three fatal encounters with police in the first week of 2023.
“A lot of the comments by LAPD are their attempts to justify the killings,” Abdullah told The Wave. “There has been no progress under [LAPD Chief Michel] Moore. He doubles down on the violent policing that happens under his watch.”
The deaths of Keenan Anderson, Takar Smith and Oscar Leon Sanchez have raised tensions again between minority communities and the police department.
Protesters rallied outside City Hall on Jan. 17 and later disrupted the City Council meeting.
Several hundred people logged into a Zoom meeting later that evening to attend a previously scheduled session of the Los Angeles Police Commission, the board that oversees the LAPD and decides whether to recommend the current police chief for reappointment.
Moore’s five-year term is up this year. The commission must inform Mayor Karen Bass in March if Moore should be reappointed. A majority of the people attending the virtual meeting expressed their displeasure with Moore and called for his resignation.
“We know the community is fed up with the way things are happening,” Abdullah said.
During the protests and rallies, activists demanded Moore’s resignation, better discretion with the use of tasers and more mental health units employed by the department to help defuse incidents that do not involve firearms.
In each of the three fatal incidents, Anderson, Smith and Sanchez were unarmed. Sanchez had a metal object in his hand and was gunned down when he approached officers. Smith was fatally shot after officers responded to a domestic abuse complaint.
Anderson became the more high-profile case of the three when he died four hours after police took him to a hospital. He also is a cousin of former Black Lives Matter-LA founder Patrisse Cullors.
Anderson, who police said was a suspect in a hit-and-run accident in Venice, was tased several times by officers when he refused to comply with their orders. An initial hospital report said Anderson died of cardiac arrest. LAPD officials claimed Anderson had cocaine and cannabis in his system.
LAPD has yet to make a formal comment on the mental health requests by community leaders. A spokesperson for the LAPD media relations division said LAPD “wants to add more mental health units, but it’s up to the Mayor’s Office…”
Last year, the City Council approved an $11.8 billion budget for LAPD for fiscal year 2022-23, an $87 million increase from the previous budget. The LAPD budget is the highest in the country for any police department.
Abdullah said it was “laughable” that LAPD is appearing to be waiting on approval from Mayor Bass to provide more funding for mental health responses.
“You don’t get to fail at your job, then say you need more money,” Abdullah said. “LAPD has more than enough funding to increase its mental health services.”
Debbie Thomas, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union for rank-and-file officers for the LAPD, said in a television interview that the department has only “six cars for its mental health units for a city of almost four million people…”
The limited resources employed by LAPD for mental health incidents is fueling community fears that similar situations could result in more fatalities.
Dominique Anderson, Keenan’s sister, expressed that concern when she spoke to the City Council Jan. 17.
“Our brother deserves to be alive with his family and friends and teaching his students,” Anderson said of her brother. “He also deserves to be hugging his son, but instead his son is left fatherless because of a chance encounter with the LAPD. Keenan was no threat to the officers who were there that day. He was unarmed.”
Eighth District City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson said he intends to propose at least two measures to the City Council to increase LAPD’s mental health operations. The measures would require formal approval by the City Council and would provide additional funding to LAPD.
“If I run a red light, I shouldn’t be confronted by a government worker carrying a deadly weapon,” Harris-Dawson said at the City Hall rally Jan. 17.
During Bass’ mayoral campaign, she spoke about her vision for the LAPD, which included providing more social services in communities, as well as more mental health experts to accompany officers on calls not requiring deadly force.
Bass touted this approach instead of hiring more officers, a plan promoted by her opponent, Rick Caruso, during the mayoral campaign. Bass has called for a “complete and thorough” investigation into the deaths of Anderson, Smith and Sanchez.
“This will be the first real test for Bass — how she deals with this situation and Moore,” Abdullah said.
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.