The LA Podcast

The LAPD is defunding itself. That might be a problem

by Hayes Davenport
November 12, 2020
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This article came out on Saturday about ten minutes after the race was called for Biden, so probably nobody saw it. But it contains some big revelations about LAPD defunding, which is now sort of happening.

The story, by Kevin Rector, is about the $150 million in cuts to LAPD that Garcetti and the Council made in July after polite suggestions from constituents. A plan for how to make those cuts is now being moved forward… by LAPD! Not an outside arbiter. The plan was drafted by Chief Michel Moore’s office in consultation with LAPD commanders. LAPD is just gonna go ahead and figure out how to defund itself, thanks so much.

Predictably, this process is playing out in a way that nobody in LA asked for.

Let’s start with the good cuts. There are some good cuts!

There are also some cuts that could be potentially not good.

LAPD is also reducing some of its “specialty divisions,” including robbery/homicide and gang/narcotics. These are investigative bureaus — they’re staffed by detectives. Some officers from these divisions are being moved to patrol. Rector’s article implies that the overall number of patrol officers will be unchanged or even increase — 234 officers are moving into field forces.

Nobody who marched over the summer was asking for more patrol officers, or even the same number of them. Shifting resources from investigation to patrol is much more likely to increase the number of Black and Latinx people who are injured or killed by police than reduce it. And reducing that number was, if you remember, the original idea behind this budget reduction.

(None of these cuts will impact the personal finances of existing officers, notably. They’re just letting about 350 officers retire without being replaced, and shuffling personnel around to fill the gaps.)

But the cuts to homicide are a particular red flag for me. You may have heard that murders are up about 15% in LA this year, as they are around the country. There’s some evidence that better homicide investigation can lead to fewer murders overall. (Jill Leovy’s book “Ghettoside” gets into this).

We don’t know if these changes will meaningfully affect murder investigations, or what resources are being taken from homicide. They don’t get into specifics so it might not be a lot. But you can personally bet the entire LAPD budget on this: these cuts will be weaponized against elected officials every time a murder happens in this city for at least a year.

The LAPD is an intensely political entity, and almost every large-scale policy decision they make is with some political goal in mind. Whenever crime rates move in any direction, they use the opportunity to justify an increase to their funding. Murders are up? Obviously we need to increase the budget. Murders are down? That’s because we spent our money on new programs, and now we need to increase the budget to keep them down.

There is no correlation whatsoever between LAPD funding and violent crime rates over the last decade. But within the LAPD public relations division, the relationship between money and crime is a guiding principle: if they get enough funding, our city will finally have peace. The messaging is basically the same as a charity infomercial — for just the cost of five million cups of coffee, you can stop one person from being murdered.

After these cuts are implemented in March, watch and see how the police PR machine points at crime in LA and implies that the Mayor and City Council are responsible for it, because they *~*defunded the police*~*. They’re already doing it! Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson came on our podcast and said that whenever he’s in a Neighborhood Council meeting and a resident mentions increased crime, the LAPD Senior Lead Officer in attendance will pin it on insufficient police funding. Craig Lally, president of the LA Police Protective League, is getting a jump on it too. He blames cuts for increased violence in the article announcing the cuts, four months before they’ve even been implemented:

This looks a lot like retaliatory budgeting: cuts made not to save money, but to make it politically easier to attack elected officials and get the money back as soon as possible.

This tactic is not new. We saw it very recently at the county! When the Board of Supervisors told Sheriff Alex Villanueva to trim his budget, he petulantly shut down two entire stations in Altadena and Mar Vista — then cited the predictable outcry in those neighborhoods as proof that people didn’t want cuts to law enforcement, when in reality nobody had asked him to do it that way.

Here’s the frustrating thing about all this: if LAPD wanted to make cuts without changing operations at all, they very easily could have. There were several other paths for reducing the LAPD budget on the table — paths that elected leaders in LA have begged LAPD to pursue — that would have no effect on the “public safety” that police leadership is now agonizing over. But LAPD won’t even consider those options.

Before we get into what those options are, let’s talk about how much these cuts are actually supposed to be worth. The article repeatedly references the $150 million reduction passed by the City Council, as if that’s the amount of money these new changes will save. But I don’t think that number is right.

Back when the Council passed it, the original plan for a $150 million reduction had $97 million of that come from the overtime budget, much of which officers will just get paid down the road anyway. This is from July:

I don’t think any of that has changed. So that would mean that only $53 million of the $150 million is coming from cuts to personnel or operations. Someone correct me if I’m wrong on this, but I’m going to assume that these new cuts are meant to save somewhere in the neighborhood of $53 million.

Here are two very obvious other ways the LAPD could have trimmed $53 million without changing anything whatsoever about how the department operates:

  1. Sworn officers could have delayed getting even a fraction of the $123 million in raises they got this year. Remember when a lot of people were mad about how LAPD officers were getting huge pay increases while almost every other city department was forced to take cuts? Here’s an update: they ended up keeping those raises! And their union has continually refused to even go back to the negotiating table, despite electeds like Councilmember Mike Bonin imploring them to delay the raises so the city can survive its revenue crisis.
  1. A few years ago, the city controller found 462 jobs performed by armed officers that could easily be done by civilians — including front desk work, basic HR responsibilities like coordinating sick leave, and social media. (This is your reminder that when you decide to do your funny little reply to an LAPD tweet, the person who posted that tweet is carrying a gun.) Since the controller’s report came out, the number of the jobs the LAPD has civilianized is, as you have already guessed, zero. But if they had civilianized all of them, the report found that it would save the department — now get ready because this is a pretty wild coincidence — $53.6 million a year! Pretty much the exact amount that the department is now attempting to save with cuts that, according to their own leadership, will be “catastrophic” for public safety in Los Angeles.

What do both of these have in common? Less money for armed officers who are currently on the force. The budget reductions option LAPD is going with instead, meanwhile, lets all existing officers keep all their money.

By not pursuing the obvious, less-impactful options for budget reduction that have been put in front of them, LAPD and LAPPL leadership are telling us one of two things:

  1. They don’t actually think these new cuts will make any difference to public safety, and are just fearmongering around crime and human tragedy for long-term financial gain.
  2. They truly believe these cuts will lead to a lot more people getting murdered, but are nonetheless refusing to make sacrifices to officers’ personal incomes that would prevent the cuts (and murders) from happening.

I think it’s the first one!