On January 10th, the Police Protective League, the union that represents police officers at the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), announced that they had hired high-profile PR firm Burson-Marsteller, to gather more public support for raises in future contract negotiations. The results of a recent polling of 1,000 residents show that they are generally split or undecided on whether police officers should get paid more. No surprise. This is a precarious time for the Police Protective League to be making strong demands on officer pay, in light of recent officer-involved shootings. Just recently, the department has been under fire for the death of Ezell Ford, a mentally ill man killed by two police officers.
Perhaps the end goal should not be about pay raises.
To say that the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has a mixed history with communities of color in Los Angeles is an understatement. Two of Los Angeles’ civil unrests in the 20th century (1965 and 1992) were the result of extreme acts of police brutality against African-Americans. Both the 65′ and 1992 civil unrests were catalysts for much broader policy reforms to address the socio-economic issues that had been largely ignored by our elected leaders: unemployment, poverty, mass incarceration, and lack of educational opportunities.
While some reforms have been made to improve the lives of communities of color, our relationship with law enforcement remains complex. City leaders have a responsibility and duty to ensure that funds are properly allocated to maintain basic services, keep our city running, and support programs that benefit all Angelenos.
This also includes law enforcement. In fact, a lot of City funds goes to law enforcement. This is not unique to Los Angeles. A significant part of most U.S. city budgets goes to public safety.
On a practical, dollar and cents level, we residents have to compete with law enforcement to maintain basic community services. City unions have engaged in an uphill battle with L.A.’s Chief Budget Officer, Miguel Santana, to prevent the loss of their members’ jobs and to maintain City services and programs our communities desperately need.
Our previous mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, campaigned for a plan to have at least 10,000 police officers on the force when his administration began in 2005. That promise became a bigger lift than expected due to the economic recession, and a billion dollar budget deficit. Declining municipal revenues resulted in draconian cuts to City services and massive lay-offs of City employees.
Nonetheless, Villaraigosa’s promise of a 10,000 officer police force was fulfilled.
Later, before leaving office, Villaraigosa’s last budget summary (FY 2013-2014) lauded the efforts of L.A.’s Chief Administrative Officer for “creating a more efficient city government and realizing the benefits of increasing city revenues:”
“Over the last three years, the projected $1.07 billion deficit was reduced to $216 million in part by:
− $222 million in departmental cuts
− $83 million in additional salary savings
− $263 million in pension savings
− $61 million in benefits and workers’ compensation savings
− $177 million in General Fund revenue growth”
At the same time, the budget for the LAPD was $1.31 billion representing 35% of the entire City budget and a four percent increase from the previous year.
More funding for LAPD, hiring freezes and layoffs for the rest.
Under the new Garcetti Administration,the FY 2014-15 budget includes a renewed commitment to a 10,000 officer force along with a modest increase to the police budget.
Today, in the wake of a national discussion that has finally emerged about policing in communities of color, we again face the choice to reform the LAPD. Unfortunately, this opportunity was was created out of the the lost lives of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Ezell Ford and hundreds of others. It is our responsibility to revisit together the role that we want police to play in our lives.
Garcetti’s first step is to require body cameras on LAPD officers and he is in the process of rolling out 7,000 cameras.
At the same time, the Los Angeles Protective League – the union that represents police officers – whose contract expired on June 30, 2014, is holding a hard line at the bargaining table for a new contract.
While a one-year deal on office pay has been tentatively reached between City leaders and the Protective League, a response to resident and activist demands to reform our police department remains to be seen.
At the top of my list would be a more transparent process for dealing with officer-related shootings; real community oversight of the Department; and adequate training of officers to engage more appropriately, effectively, and compassionately with our City’s mentally ill and homeless residents.