As governments nationwide move forward with plans to shift funds away from law enforcement in the aftermath of George Floyd’s police-involved death last month, Los Angeles CEO Sachi Hamai has put forward a proposed budget with recommendations to cut some $145.4 million allocated to local police.
The bid, which would entail eliminating six units from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, earned a sharp rebuke from County Sheriff Alex Villanueva over the weekend.
“The budget cuts are targeted specifically to hurt public safety while sparing virtually every other function of county government from any reductions,” Villanueva stated. “These cuts come at a time when jails were de-populated of over five thousand inmates in order to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that restrictions are lifting, violent crimes, such as murder, are on the rise across the County. Now is not the time to cut vital law enforcement services, that should be the last thing cut.”
The CEO’s proposed budget, as per the LASD, recommends the following LASD units be eliminated:
• Safe Streets Bureau (Gang Enforcement)
• Parks Bureau
• Special Victims Bureau (Sexual/Physical Abuse of Children, Rape, Human Trafficking)
• Community Partnership Bureau (COPS Team)
• Fraud and Cybercrimes Bureau
• Major Crimes Bureau
According to Villanueva, the CEO also advocates for drastically reducing Custody Operations (various units) and Mental Health Evaluation Teams (MET) – accusing the leadership of merely seeking to cover up their own financial planning errors.
“The CEO and the Board have embraced the ‘Defund the Police’ movement and are cynically hiding behind accounting maneuvers, knowing well that loss of revenue in sales tax can be made up by equitably distributing more stable revenue streams like property taxes. This is not acceptable and a willful abandonment of one of the top priorities of all local government, keeping people safe,” he continued. “Curiously, the bloated county bureaucracy remains virtually intact, which should always be the first to suffer reductions. The priorities of the Board of Supervisors are not the priorities of the good people of Los Angeles County.”
The concrete plan for fiscal change comes a month after Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti pledged – amid the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests – to redistribute some funds from the police and specifically into black communities.
“We need to make a firm commitment to change, not just with words but with action,” he announced.
Kelly Hyman, a partner at The Hyman Law Firm and specialist in class-action lawsuits, explained that in Los Angeles County’s proposed budget, public safety will bear the impact of an overall 8 percent cut in spending, with the Sheriff’s Department marked for more than 400 layoffs and $162 million trimmed from its $3.3-billion budget.
“Sheriff Alex Villanueva believes he needs $3.9 billion to run the department effectively. Officials have said that the proposed cuts to the 2020-21 budget were largely due to shortfalls in sales tax funds, which have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ‘defund the police’ movement was not a factor in the decision to reduce spending at the department,” she noted. “Although the county’s fiscal year starts July 1, Los Angeles County Chief Executive will present a ‘supplemental budget’ to the Board of Supervisors in September, and this potential supplemental budget could address whatever changes need to be made in that year’s budget.”
However, the pending eradication of the six LASD units has ignited some steep concerns over what this means for the overall safety and stability of the County of 9.5 million.
“The drastic move by local elected officials to appease this movement so quickly is premature and will backfire. We all agreed police reform was needed, but the step to defund police at this level is a con on every level,” cautioned law enforcement expert and Mankarious, CEO of Crime Stoppers of Houston. “Reforming police in actuality means better training, investing in recruits, changes in police practices, and maintaining good officers. In theory, this would or could require an increase in funding for local police departments.”
In her view, the result will be more citizens impacted and victimized by rising crime rates and, ultimately, the loss of lives in addition to the loss of hundreds if not thousands of officers.
“It’s wrong on every level, and elected officials in these cities have put down the call to very difficult work in exchange for appealing the voices they are afraid of,” Mankarious continued. “Change can and must happen – we have all agreed – but this massive punitive approach is sowing a storm whose effects should concern all.”
And Tony Schiena, chairman of the MOSAIC private security group, concurred that police defunding could empower an array of violent actors in society.
“What happens when Al Qaeda, ISIS, or other groups, the general public haven’t even heard of decide to plan another attack? What about white supremacist groups that have been and are a serious threat to national security, now more than ever, decide to go operational with their skilled members in various parts of the US? Fewer boots on the ground with decreased abilities will have catastrophic repercussions,” he said.
Some analysts are also especially perplexed by the prospective axing of the Special Victims Unit (SVU) which has long been considered a national leader – made up of a multifaceted team of experts – in rescuing and protecting children from harrowing situations of physical and sexual abuse, human trafficking and rape, particularly those trapped in abusive home environments.
“Law enforcement needs an increase in budget in this area as human trafficking is the third-largest crime industry in the world and fast becoming the second biggest,” Schiena contended. “NGO’s and charities can be effective to a point but what needs to be understood is that terrorist organizations and cartels have also engaged in this criminal activity as a revenue source and therefore we need law enforcement to have the necessary manpower and resources to effectively combat it.”
Mankarious also pointed out that special victim units within law enforcement agencies serve an incredible purpose, requiring organizations to work hand-in-hand with law enforcement partners. She also underscored that few victims’ voices in this realm have been amplified amid the ongoing discussion about national policing.
“In looking at cities like Los Angeles, who have moved to defund police and in essence have promised their residents a coming spike in crime – where is the push to increase their victim services? What increased services are simultaneously being offered for victims? What’s the plan for increased trauma care? Increased rape kits? Counseling for victim families? For assault victims, property crime victims, etc.? I have not heard anyone talk about the victims, and it’s appalling,” she asserted.
Nonetheless, the specialized unit itself has not been without its own scarring and internal problems.
Last year, Neil David Kimball – an SVU investigator assigned to handle sexual abuse crimes – was given a three-year jail sentence after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting one of the teen victims he was assigned to help two years earlier. The deputy – who managed scores of cases throughout his four-year tenure in the unit – according to authorities, befriended the 15-year-old girl before later assaulting her.
But whether or not such an example is further proof that police departments are in need of more in-depth scrutiny remains an issue ripe for debate.
“Although the crime by this SVU investigation is horrific, most SVU units work very effectively, and there are countless stories that emerge daily on how victims have been assisted by them, during a very painful time in their lives,” added Alex del Carmen, associate dean and professor at the School of Criminology, Criminal Justice and Strategic Studies at the Tarleton State University in Texas.
“We need to have serious and mature conversations about how to make our police departments better while relying on science and not on emotional and political agendas,” he said. “If there is anything we have learned during the past few months is that police departments need funding and community support in order to hire and train better officers.”