LAPD protected from the fiscal impact of COVID-19 while the rest of us suffer
With the city facing tax revenue shortfalls on multiple fronts in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, Mayor Eric Garcetti is proposing an austerity budget for Los Angeles to close the gap. What stands out most from this proposal is that it leaves LAPD’s mammoth portion of the city’s budget nearly unscathed. While other departments are facing deep cuts, and most city employees are facing weeks of mandatory unpaid furloughs, LAPD will be spared the brunt of this impact while officers’ pay remains guaranteed.
Under the best of circumstances, Los Angeles spends a shocking amount of money on law enforcement. The bulk of Los Angeles’ annual budget is non-discretionary; many of the city’s funding obligations cannot be adjusted year-to-year. Of the remaining two billion, more than half is allocated in some way or another to LAPD. Last year the figure estimated for the department’s budget was $1.18 billion, and that was likely low due to the number of revenue sources the department draws on.
LAPD has a racist and violent history and present. By many metrics, no police force in the country is deadlier, and the utter lack of accountability that the department faces from those that could hold them accountable is farcical. Los Angeles County DA Jackie Lacey has consistently refused to prosecute killer cops, even when the LA Police Commission recommends her office to do so. This lack of accountability filters down to the city’s budget makers, who protect and expand the police budget annually, providing little meaningful oversight to a department desperately in need of supervision.
By taking the bulk of the burden for finding cuts off of our overfunded police system, this austerity budget will hit other departments with twice the impact they would otherwise face. This means the frontline workers that are actually dealing with the pandemic, whether they be in housing, sanitation, or health are impacted, while the LAPD (which has flouted social distancing regulations throughout the crisis) expands its footprint on the city. We already have cops thrust into roles in the city where social workers should be, especially when it comes to interacting with our unhoused neighbors. This budget will only exacerbate this situation.
Also, it is worth pointing out that we did not end up economically vulnerable to a pandemic by accident. The economic contraction that Los Angeles is facing is real, but it was not inevitable. It is a function of a series of extremely conservative choices about how we tax ourselves and how we pay for things, dating back decades. Choosing to fund critical services through regressive sales taxes rather than other mechanisms left the city’s coffers particularly vulnerable to a contraction like the one we are currently facing.
From a fiscal perspective, we are still living in Howard Jarvis and Ronald Reagan’s California, and it is killing us.
All of this combines to leave Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti, and City Council once again doubling down on using the most conservative policy tools at their collective disposal. What the city needs from its leaders are the imagination and the courage to stop merely reproducing policies and patterns of spending that have created our unequal status quo.
We need leaders who will stop protecting the police at all costs, but will instead start protecting the city’s most vulnerable residents, the very people disproportionately impacted by the city’s history of violent policing.