LASD has misled WeHo City Council on its contract and on crime rates. On June 27, the council will discuss rewarding them with a $1 million budget increase.
Nika Soon-Shiong is a Public Safety Commissioner for West Hollywood.
West Hollywood’s Public Safety Commission passed a motion to reallocate $3.2 million from the annual sheriff’s contract to much needed social services. In exchange for recovering two out of 249 stolen phones, the council will discuss a $1,030,000 contract increase to support training for undercover sting operations. Zero cell phones were recovered from dimly lit, noisy nightclubs in the sting operations so far. The $22.15 million LASD contract will soak up one fifth of the city’s budget.
One out of every five calls to the WeHo sheriff’s department is to address homelessness. An unprecedented campaign to reallocate dollars from LASD to social services has been supported by the 17th president of the NAACP, founder of CalEITC4Me, former mayors, and more.
As one resident shared in the outpour of public comments to the June 6 City Council meeting, “We need less money for cops, and more money for things like mental health, social services, and unarmed security.” The commenter said they’d witnessed armed LASD officers sitting around in their cruiser, not attending to a deceased elderly neighbor’s body and instead waiting for the coroner’s office to handle the situation.
The commenter also said they personally experienced being met with armed LASD officers just to report that their identity had been stolen. “I had to ask two [officers] to come to my unit and stare at my modem,” the commenter said. “All of this is such a waste! There is no reason to send highly paid and trained soldiers to do the type of work that a low-level bureaucrat could do.”
Let’s put the sheriff and social services budgets into perspective with two examples: the cost for an 18 month-guaranteed income pilot for LGBTQ+ residents versus three days of law enforcement at the city’s Pride events.
WeHo announced a guaranteed income pilot delivering $1,000 per month to elderly LGBTQ+ residents. After a legal debate over the program’s discrimination against straight people, applications will re-open late June. Over a year after the pilot was announced, only 25 people will be selected.
There was little debate around spending even more than the total guaranteed income payments for the LASD to patrol Pride. As one ACLU SoCal lawyer shared to City Council:
“Pride was, and still is, a protest. Instead, WeHo made Pride into a parade for the sheriff… The department is openly bamboozling you, the city, and other contract cities. We can all see it.”
Other commenters matched this sentiment, reflecting that voters are ready for change:
“Rainbow-wrapped cars do nothing for the community,” said one commenter. “WeHo filled Pride with deputy gangs,” said another.”
LA City controller candidate Kenneth Mejia’s historic lead in the recent primary demonstrates the demand for common-sense budgets backed by clearly communicated and transparent data. So far, Mejia has won almost double the votes of an established, career politician of 35 years, and has nearly the same vote tallies as the leading mayoral candidates, using a platform of financial education.
It’s been a year since the city asked the WeHo sheriff to audit the department’s own performance. This summer, the city will spend $500,000 for an external auditing firm to audit the sheriff’s audit. The plan to “audit the audit” starkly reveals the level of trust this department has earned.
It’s true that WeHo residents are not feeling safe. A community study showed that, in 2013, only 43% of residents felt very safe. A robust sheriff presence was the primary solution offered. Five years later, in 2018, even fewer felt very safe: only 26%.
It’s also true that there is no correlation between the rising costs of the sheriff contract and crime reduction. Who gave us this data? The sheriff’s department itself.
Let’s remember that reducing the LASD contract does not even imply there will be fewer officers in WeHo. According to the LA County CEO, the LASD hired or promoted 1,900 new employees during the “hiring freeze” and is not prevented from assigning deputies to contract cities.
In Denver, a Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) Program sent mental health clinicians, paramedics, or emergency medical technicians to respond to low-risk calls coming into the 911 system. Most of the 15.6 million calls to the STAR team did not involve a safety concern or weapon. The program reduced crime by 34%. We can let an alternative emergency response team take similar calls in WeHo, where each single LASD deputy could pay for three social service or mental health workers. For the cost of one officer, we could buy new iPhone 13s for each resident who was pickpocketed, and still have 109 phones left over at City Hall. The $3.2 million LASD contract reduction could quadruple the number of unarmed Block by Block Security Ambassadors to 110 people. There could be a Block by Block Security Ambassador on every corner of the two square mile city.
Investing taxpayer dollars into the gigantic LASD bureaucracy has never been an effective solution to address homelessness or crime. Direct cash programs reduce crime. Alternative emergency response teams reduce crime.
Perhaps this doesn’t matter when perception trumps reality. We have a chance to change both and set an example for other contract cities by investing in more effective –– and fiscally responsible –– solutions to public safety.
There’s an ongoing petition for the city to reallocate $3.2 million from LASD to social services.
The public has from June 23rd onwards to submit written public comments before the city’s budget is finalized at the June 27th City Council meeting.