As City Council debates police cuts, many say they don’t go nearly far enough

Long Beach residents and their elected representatives got the first chance to weigh in on proposed budget cuts to the police department at a public hearing Tuesday night, with the City Council split on whether the $10.3 million slice was too small or too large of a blow to the LBPD.

But the majority public commenters who weighed in were clear: This is not enough.

“The fact that you are not defunding the police is frankly despicable,” said Jordan Doering, a member of the Long Beach Democratic Socialist of America chapter, who pledged that protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota would continue until the department is cut by 50%. “I look forward to seeing all of you through the month of August.”

“This does not meet the demands of the people,” said resident Tanya Jimenez.

The proposed cut to the LBPD is part of an effort to close a $30 million overall deficit caused mostly by the coronavirus and ensuing economic slowdown.

If approved, the plan would eliminate 54 sworn positions from the LBPD and and backfill some police positions with civilian workers. The department’s helicopter pilots, for instance, would be contracted out, and a team of civilians would be dispatched to low-level property crime calls to write reports.

The police cuts also include transferring school crossing guard positions to the Public Works Department as well as the phasing out a contract with the Long Beach Unified School District, which came at the district’s request.

The reductions amount to about 5% of the LBPD’s budget, according to city officials, but members of the public took exception with that calculation, pointing to the fact that this year’s proposed budget is just about $4 million less than the $264 million the department got last year.

City Manager Tom Modica said officials arrived at the 5% calculation by anticipating the typical annual cost of growth if the department’s budget had remained on track and comparing that with the proposed $260 million budget.

Police departments across the nation are facing cuts as a convergence of calls for change and a global pandemic that has decimated local economies, forcing local leaders to make tough decisions.

Earlier this year Los Angeles leaders approved a $150 million cut from the LAPD, San Francisco’s police are facing a $120 million cut and the Seattle City Council is contemplating cuts of up to 50%.

The Minneapolis City Council made a more dramatic move, taking initial steps to disband its police department in June. Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on his neck, sparking nationwide outrage.

Councilwoman Suzie Price, who earlier this year said she would not be supportive of any cuts to the police department, said that her office has received letters of concern over the cuts to the police budget and that she wanted to ensure that when people call 911 “they get a response and there’s follow through on that response.”

The union representing Long Beach police officers has also spoken out against the cuts, calling them drastic. Having civilians respond to certain 911 calls is “a recipe for disaster,” the Long Beach Police Officers Association said in a statement.

Others asked for options for cuts to be expanded.

Councilwoman Stacy Mungo asked that another $5 million to $10 million in cuts from all departments be brought back to the council so those could be weighed against the budget proposal unveiled Monday.

“Right now there are not a lot of options,” Mungo said.

Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce spoke most forcefully in favor of LBPD cuts, saying more could be done. Pearce said that the city’s park rangers should be shifted away from police department oversight and more funding could be invested in mental health and addiction services.

“Our libraries are closed right now, there are people who don’t have access to this meeting right now,” Pearce said. “We have to be mindful of who we’re governing for and it has to be for everyone in this city and not one group.”

Part of the proposed budget unveiled Monday were recommendations from Mayor Robert Garcia, one of which calls for a future of zero-base budgeting, a practice that could see the city’s budget start from zero and allocate funding based on need rather than historical precedent.

The city’s public safety network which includes police, fire and disaster preparedness claims around 70% of the city’s general fund annually.

Wednesday’s hearing did not include any proposed changes to the budget. Those will come over the next month as the council and its committees work to tweak the staff proposals before its expected Sep. 15 adoption date.

On Thursday, the council’s Budget Oversight Committee will meet for the first time since the proposed budget was released Monday.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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