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'Defund The Police'? What To Expect From Today's City Council Budget Committee Meeting

A protestor sits at Grand Park across the street from City Hall on June 6. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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UPDATE: Amid Calls To Defund LAPD, City Council's Budget Committee Kicks Off A Month Of Hearings

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This afternoon brings the first L.A. City Council Budget and Finance Committee meeting since the killing of George Floyd and police brutality closer to home inspired thousands of Angelenos to take to the streets in protest.

The meeting will be "an opportunity to reassess a significant portion of funding," said Councilmember Curren Price, vice chair of the committee. He helped introduce a motion last week that reallocates $100-150 million in LAPD funds to programs supporting communities of color.

That motion isn't on the agenda today, however -- it's not slated for discussion until June 15, Price said.

Some of what is on deck for Monday's meeting:

  • A final financial status report for the current fiscal year, 2019-20, which ends June 30
  • Weighing the impact of proposed civilian city worker furloughs, and requesting departments look for alternatives to furloughs
  • Asking budget analysts to identify expenses that can be reimbursed through the federal CARES Act bailout program

(The action will be streamed live here at 2 p.m.)

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For context: the operating budget of the LAPD is over $1.8 billion -- mostly salaries. The city's total spending on police tops $3.1 billion when items like pensions and HR benefits are included. Activists led by Black Lives Matter - LA have decried city leaders committing nearly 54% of discretionary spending to law enforcement, and "defund the police" has become a rallying cry at marches around L.A.

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The effort to shift city resources away from the LAPD was happening in Los Angeles well before a Minneapolis police officer killed Floyd, igniting nationwide demonstrations. A coalition of groups led by BLMLA introduced a "People's Budget" proposal last month that leaves law enforcement and police with just 5.7% of city spending. Under the plan, the bulk of taxpayer money would instead go to "Universal Aid and Crisis Management," the "Built Environment," and "Reimagined Community Safety" -- including crisis management, domestic violence intervention, and gang prevention programs.

Since its introduction in April, Mayor Garcetti's budget drew outrage from community groups upset that the plan included cuts for most departments and partial furloughs for thousands of city workers, but kept a 7% budget increase for the LAPD intact. On Wednesday, the mayor announced he was on board with the city council's plan to reduce spending on police, and would include the cuts in a package slashing $250 million overall -- money to be redirected to L.A.'s black community.

Protesters march past LAPD officers in downtown Los Angeles on June 6, 2020 during a demonstration over the death of George Floyd. (Kyle Grillot/AFP via Getty Images)

It was a break with the orthodoxy of previous city leaders, who for decades promised to grow the police department. But last week, it appeared a combination of overwhelming pressure from daily protests -- and the coronavirus pandemic squeezing financial resources -- forced new thinking.

"It's important that all of our departments give something, if you will. And the police should be no different," Price said.

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The backlash was swift: on Friday, Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents uniformed officers, blasted Garcetti and city council members who proposed the cuts.

"[Garcetti] is more interested in his image and how he's looked upon, as opposed to being a leader in difficult times," said LAPPL director Jamie McBride during a press conference.

Meanwhile, protest organizers say slicing $150 million from the police budget isn't close to enough. Their ultimate goal is to abolish law enforcement and re-imagine community safety with a focus on mental healthcare, housing and other social services. Activists are on guard for what they see as official half-measures from city leaders meant to defuse public outrage and curtail mass demonstrations against police violence.

"As we speak they are trying to exploit this moment and turn it from a moment of transformation into a moment of 'reform,'" Black Lives Matter - LA cofounder Melina Abdullah said at a rally on Saturday.

"They're trying to say, 'oh we want to do things that make policing better,'" she added. "Let me be clear: policing evolves from slave catching...You cannot reform policing that evolved from slave catching. You have to abolish it." (One of the earliest forms of policing in America's southern colonies were slave patrols.)

The process is far from over. Garcetti's FY 2020-21 budget takes effect July 1, but budget analysts warn the city faces at least an additional $50 million revenue shortfall because of the economic effects of COVID-19. Coronavirus has made this budget cycle the most unpredictable since the Great Recession, and the budget committee will likely have to meet every few weeks to adjust spending based on how L.A.'s economic recovery is progressing.