Despite growing concern over a ballooning budget shortfall that could usher in sweeping cuts to city services in coming weeks, the Los Angeles Police Department put forward a proposal Tuesday that would increase its operating budget next year by more than $100 million.
Police officials claimed the proposal represented a “bare bones” budget that would preserve public safety as much as possible while absorbing cuts to personnel and previously negotiated salary increases for remaining officers — all while meeting Mayor Eric Garcetti’s calls to rein in spending.
“I do believe that this is measured and fiscally conservative, and represents the type of austerity that we need to exercise during this time of such tremendous demands on the city’s coffers,” LAPD Chief Michel Moore told the Police Commission, which unanimously approved the proposal.
Activist groups blasted the proposal, saying it undermined recent efforts to shift spending away from police and toward alternative social services, including through a $150-million cut to the department’s budget by the City Council.
An even more cutting assessment came straight from City Hall, where officials suggested the LAPD proposal was unrealistic given the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on L.A.’s bottom line.
“Pandemic-driven revenue losses have devastated the city’s finances, and they are forcing us to make sizable cuts across the board,” said Alex Comisar, a spokesman for Garcetti. “The mayor is working with all departments to prepare a 2021-2022 budget that preserves the most basic city services, and that’s what we plan to deliver next year.”
The $1.83-billion LAPD proposal reflects a nearly $30-million reduction from the budget first approved for the department this year, which is how the LAPD described it in its proposal. However, activists pointed out that it would be a $106-million increase over the reduced budget that went into effect after the City Council made its changes to the LAPD budget in July — and called the LAPD’s suggestion it was a budget cut misleading.
“This is a gross misrepresentation, right to our face,” said Hamid Khan, of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, an activist group that has been questioning the department about its budget for months alongside the group Free Radicals.
“When the rest of the city has to suffer from austerity, and even other critical services and essential services are being cut back, you have a [police] department playing with numbers,” Khan said. “This lie has to be exposed.”
The discussion Tuesday showed that the intense debate over police funding that occurred amid massive protests against police violence this summer is far from over, and will likely heat up in coming weeks and months as the city weighs its options to deal with the intensifying fiscal crisis.
The Police Commission’s approval sends the proposal to Garcetti’s office for further review and changes. It will then be incorporated by Garcetti’s office into a broader citywide spending blueprint for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, which will then go before the City Council for final adjustments and approval this summer.
The city’s projected shortfall for this year stands at $600 million, but some analysts expect that number to grow as the impacts of the pandemic continue to be understood.
Garcetti recently told agencies to reduce spending this year by 3%. City Administrative Officer Richard Llewellyn Jr. said his office is calculating what impact those cuts may have on the shortfall.
If the shortfall continues to grow, agencies — including the police — would be asked to make more cuts.
What that will mean for a city already experiencing its highest homicide rate in a decade — mirroring other cities across the country — is unclear. Activists have suggested that fewer police on the streets won’t mean more crime if social services are built out, but growth of alternate services isn’t likely in a budget crunch.
Police officials have suggested that cuts to the department would be devastating for the crime fight.
Moore on Tuesday defended the department’s proposed budget, saying it was “not meant to be smoke and mirrors” but a serious, discerning evaluation of how best to move forward given the serious fiscal constraints on the city.
Moore said the funding requested would allow LAPD to maintain public safety — albeit with some difficulty — while covering other equipment needs and growing contractual obligations, including a previously negotiated salary and overtime increase for officers that will cost the department more than $30 million next year even with a reduction in overall police officer positions. Moore said it would not restore any of the approximately 250 officer positions that were slashed in response to the City Council’s cut to the LAPD budget in July.
Craig Lally, president of the union that represents rank-and-file LAPD officers — and who just won reelection this week to another three-year union term — said the cuts this summer endangered Angelenos and should be undone as homicides and shootings continue to rise. Additional cuts would be catastrophic, he said.
“It’s going to be very difficult for us to police this city the way it should be because of all the budget cuts and fiscal constraints,” he said.
City officials have tried to call the union, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, back to the negotiating table, including to discuss whether the slated salary increases could be put on hold to save money. The union has so far rejected such overtures.