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How Much Does LA Spend On Policing?

Now seems as good a time as any to evaluate our spending priorities.

With the LAUSD teachers strike in full effect, now seems as good a time as any to evaluate our spending priorities. Listed at the bottom of this article are all of the local police departments I could find operating in Los Angeles County, and their most recent budget.

When discussing police budgets, we often hear about how much money the LAPD and LASD receive each year, but there are 88 cities in LA county, with most having their own police department. Criminilization of the homeless and people of color doesn’t stop at the city limits of Los Angeles, and the way we think about budget priorities shouldn’t either.

Municipal police departments are only part of the picture too. Without even including federal law enforcement agencies, there are many more that operate in LA county that our tax dollars pay for. The county sheriffs is an obvious example of one that people see and interact with on a daily basis, but there are so many more.

The LA School Police are a notable example. School resource officers have increasingly become the go to answer for “protecting” students from school shootings, or even just handling disciplinary issues that teachers and administrators historically have. This is especially true with the charter school movement, where their use has seen a dramatic increase in the criminilization of young people of color.

LAUSD’s school police is the fifth largest police department operating in LA county, with a budget of $67,340,000, and includes a counter-terrorism unit. They made head lines a few years ago when they attempted to increase their militarization by acquiring dozens of assault rifles, several grenade launchers, and an MRAP armored vehicle (the primary purpose of which is to withstand the blast of an IED or anti-tank mine), through the federal government’s 1033 program. After enormous public pressure, some of these items were returned, but Angelenos should be asking why the federal government can prioritize military spending that gives millions of dollars in aid to school police, but our teachers can’t afford basic school supplies.

The presence of these officers were not able to prevent the shooting of two students at Sal Castro Middle School last year, but the absence of a school nurse almost resulted in one of those students bleeding out. Luckily a quick thinking teacher was able to save her.

Other law enforcement agencies that the city of Los Angeles funds includes but is not limited to The Port of Los Angeles Police, Los Angeles Airport Police (the fourth largest PD in the county), LA Metro Security, and The Bureau of Street Services Investigative Division. Here’s my full list (* denotes the city contracts out to LASD):

In total, I found we spend well over $4.8 billion a year on policing in LA county. This includes jails, but not the police pension or payouts for lawsuits against the above governments for police misconduct and wrongful deaths.

Notable exemptions from the list are federal agencies such as the FBI, DHS, ICE, Veterans Affairs police, as well as state and private university police departments (of which there are at least a dozen).

Also not included are the various Business Improvement District security details that are not police, although many receive public funding, carry firearms, and often act illegally in a law enforcement capacity.

Some of these cities also had allotted funds for “other law enforcement” in their budgets. I didn’t know what that entailed, and those totals were not included.

All of this information is available online on each cities’ publicly posted budget, with the exception of the city of Bradbury, which is the only city in the county that doesn’t do this. They require a public records request filing to get a hold of their budget. I didn’t feel like spending the money on it, but if you live there and are interested, please pester them, County Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s office, or LASD, all of which have ignored repeated calls about this.

The big one that’s missing though is the LA Airport Police. Despite touting itself as the 4th largest department in the county, there is no way to find their budget. I had to file a CPRA to LAWA, and will update if/when they respond. It’s interesting to know that no one in the city, not the controller, city council, the mayor’s office etc. has any idea how much we give them, despite it likely being in the hundreds of millions.

This project also began last year, so some of the figures here are not up to date, but you can check your city yourself pretty easily. If anything, the numbers are even higher now. I didn’t see a trend of a decrease in funding in any city.

I also chose to include the California Highway Patrol (a state agency) as their Southern Division has the same borders as LA county. They are seen operating here by most people every day, and the share to LA taxpayers was easier to calculate.

For CHP, I had to do a pretty rough estimate. After filing a CPRA, I was told they do not divvy up their budget by division, so I found the total budget and divided it by CHP’s total personnel to get an average, and then multiplied that by the number of personnel attached to southern division. If you have a better methodology, feel free to contact me and I can update this.

In honor of Martin Luther King day, I’ll end with a quote from him:
“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”
Prioritizing spending on police and jails over things like education and housing is the local equivalent of this.