LBPD budget appears safe from additional cuts after City Council hearing

The Long Beach Police Department’s budget does not appear to be facing any additional cuts despite months of protests calling on leaders to defund police.

The City Council has been under pressure to reinvest police funding into social services and neighborhood programs.

City staff has proposed just over $10 million in cuts, with some unfilled positions being eliminated and others like police helicopter pilots, crossing guards and some patrol officers being converted to civilian positions.

However, several members of the City Council were reluctant to make further cuts to the department with some even saying that the proposed cuts were reactionary and should be revisited.

Councilwoman Suzie Price said that she believed the time was right to consider and implement reforms for the police department but had reservations about how those were set to be put in motion through the proposed budget. Some of those changes would shift police duties to civilians.

“I think that we should absolutely be doing that,” Price said. “But, I also have concerns about how we’re doing that right now.”

She called some of the proposed moves “reactionary.”

Under the staff proposal, civilians would respond to some lower priority calls to file reports of crimes such as property theft.

Councilwoman Stacy Mungo said that the proposed cuts—resulting in fewer officers per shift on the streets—could impact response times when residents call 911.

“That could come out to about six less officers on the streets at anytime,” Mungo said. “That’s a concern for me.”

Despite the cuts, the department is not expected to layoff any officers. LBPD Chief Robert Luna said that the department is expecting upward of 55 retirements this year, a total that could offset the proposed 54 positions slated to be eliminated.

Still, Luna warned of the consequences that could come from cuts to the department, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that has left many people unemployed and has put crime on the rise, according to Luna.

“We are currently seeing increases in murders, property crimes and shooting,” Luna said. “And responding to and investigating these crime trends with limited personnel and resources will definitely be a challenge.”

Members of the community who have called for a defunding of the LBPD for months pushed back against Luna and the council members who had shown reluctance to extract more revenue from the department’s budget to distribute to other sectors of city hall that are also facing cuts.

Jordan Doering, a member of the Long Beach chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America said that if the council did not go further in reducing the police budget it would be a disservice to those who contributed to the city’s recently released framework for reconciliation.

In it, respondents listed defunding the police department as the top way to achieve police reform. The council formally adopted the framework during last week’s meeting.

“If you don’t want to defund LBPD, if you don’t want to respect it [the report], it shouldn’t be enshrined in city law,” Doering said.

A smaller portion of callers defended the department, saying police should not take any financial hit.

“Less police officers will not make this city safer,” resident Jay Johnston said.

While additional cuts were not proposed, other council members conceded that the reductions were necessary. All city departments are facing financial constraints in the future, with only the health department—which is largely grant funded—not facing cuts.

The city is facing a three-year period in which it will have to make over $100 million in cuts. The upcoming fiscal year has a $30 million hole that must be balanced and the current year’s budget which was blown up by the COVID-19 pandemic will have to be reconciled at some point in the future.

Councilman Rex Richardson said that no cuts to the police department was unsustainable given that fiscal outlook for the city. Richardson also requested a study session, likely to happen in October, in which the council will look into police stops, body camera and other policies the LBPD has implemented.

The council is expected to formally pass the budget in early September but could use budget adjustments later in the year to change funding to any department.

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