At yesterday’s Long Beach City Council special meeting, councilmembers did not propose any dramatic changes to the police department’s $10.3 million budget cut for fiscal year 2021.
For months, residents have been calling for the city to divest from the police department and invest in social services.
Though the budget proposal doesn’t fully divest from the police, offering around a 1% budget decrease, the proposal does make some changes that attempt to meet protester demands.
The department’s proposal includes the elimination of 54 sworn police officer positions, many of which are being civilianized. The department will still have 797 police officer positions and 390 civilian positions.
“I’d like to acknowledge that the history of law enforcement in our communities of color has not always been positive,” Police Chief Robert Luna said.
He pointed out that many of the issues that police deal with “have resulted from a lack of funding and support for social services and the root causes like poverty, mental health and substance abuse.”
The police department’s proposal also creates an office of constitutional policing to analyze the department’s policies and practices.
Councilmembers debate over budget cuts
Councilmember Suzie Price (D-3), who works as a district attorney, urged the council not to be “reactionary” in budget decisions. She advocated not to reduce the police budget at all until further studies were done.
Price said she fully supports moving some services currently delivered by police to professionals better suited to do those jobs.
“I absolutely believe that the time is ripe for us to consider reforms and implement reforms,” Price said. “I would like our response to be thorough and well thought out, and not reactionary,”
Councilmember Rex Richardson (D-9) pointed out that almost all departments would have to make cuts. The City is currently facing $100 million in budget cuts over the next three years due to the pandemic.
Currently, the police department’s proposed reductions account for 63% of the city’s total savings for fiscal year 2021.
“The police department makes up just under 50% of our budget, so the whole position of no cuts to that department is really an unsustainable position,” Richardson said. “It forces small departments like health, libraries, parks, to bear a greater burden of cuts at a time when communities are actually demanding more equitable investment into these services.”
Council will move forward with budget without full presentation on police
Richardson seemed eager to receive a report on the police department’s activities as soon as possible, asking City Manager Tom Modica when the council would receive a presentation on the topic.
Modica said the earliest they would receive the presentation would be late October or early November.
“What we’re envisioning is, part of the reconciliation report, is really talking about the first-year work plan of the office of constitutional policing and kind of what they’ll be working on, going deeper into data, and policies and procedures,” Modica said. “Those are not really budget-related.”
Ironically, the City’s recently released racial reconciliation framework was created in response to protests against police brutality and calls to defund the police. In this way, the funding of police and understanding of their practices are tied together.
“It’s clear that [councilmembers] don’t want to fully dive in right now,” Councilmember Jeannine Pearce (D-2) said. “There are areas that I am concerned about. I’m concerned about passing a budget without having full conversation about policies, because the budget is where we’re able to allocate funds, so the policies can shift those funds.”
Luna did, however, provide up-to-date statistics on the department. Use of force incidents, citizen complaints and violent crime have all decreased in recent years.
Property crime increased by about 18% in July, though Luna attributed the increase to new zero-bail and early release policies related to COVID-19.
“In 2019, our employees made nearly 608,000 documented contacts, made over 20,000 arrests and had nearly 340 uses of force. I throw those numbers out to show that 98% of the time, in those situations, they resulted in a peaceful resolution with no use of force,” Luna said. “For a city of our size and complexities, that’s very amazing.”
Richardson asked Luna how he planned to fix the disproportional policing of Black and brown communities in Long Beach. According to a report by the Long Beach Post, Black drivers are 3.5 times as likely to be pulled over as white drivers. Black cyclists are also 3.5 times more likely to be stopped for bike infractions than white cyclists, according to a report by FORTHE.
Luna said the new office of constitutional policing would help to answer those questions, though he offered no short term solutions.
Public comment was split between police supporters and advocates for defunding.
Jordan Doering, a member of the Long Beach chapter of the Democratic Socialist of America, pointed out that the recent racial reconciliation initiative was dominated by requests to defund the police department.
“Defund LPBD or retract your racial reconciliation stance because you’re going to be violating it,” Doering said.
Pastor Cedric Nelson from the Chosen Generation Fellowship Church said that the fiscal year 2021 budget would be a longtime reflection of the council’s values, urging members to reduce the police’s budget.
“One day your children and grandchildren will ask you, or learn in their history books, what you did to bring more justice, equity and to support the poor, the oppressed and the vulnerable during this crisis,” Nelson said.
“I ask you to be the leaders you want to be.”