People across the United States have been calling to “defund the police” after the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
Activists even painted the phrase in massive yellow letters on the street of Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington D.C.
Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin said “defund the police” means different things to different people.
“What I’m focused on is what is the right way to be policing and what is the right way to be budgeting in Los Angeles,” Bonin said. “Right now we have a budget that is cutting most services while growing LAPD. And paradoxically, even though it grows LAPD, it cuts down on neighborhood patrols and makes 911 response time worse. I think that’s a bad way to budget, particularly in the middle of a pandemic when we need to be doing more for seniors, for renters, for kids, for job and economic development.”
The Los Angeles Police Department responds to most emergencies in the city, but it’s not always appropriate for an armed officer to deescalate a situation.
“Right now in L.A. we ask, we demand, we task LAPD with doing essentially everything,” Bonin said. “People who are saying ‘defund the police’ and union officials representing LAPD officers are both saying LAPD should not be our first responders to homelessness [and] LAPD should not be responding to mental health calls. So I’m looking at the roles and the tasks that we have given to LAPD over several years and trying to get the city to re-evaluate the militarization of public safety.”
Bonin said that social workers should respond to homelessness and mental health professionals should respond to mental health crises.
“When we deploy officers in these situations, just the presence of an armed person tends to escalate the situation,” Bonin said. “So it’s better for people in Los Angeles, it’s better for the budget, it’s better for everybody to re-evaluate who is doing enforcement, who's doing public safety, public health, and emergency response.”
The nature of policing needs to change, said Bonin.
“Right now we are asking LAPD officers to do absolutely everything under the sun, from homelessness to mental health to traffic control to crowd control to enforcing off leash dog laws,” he said. “There are many of those tasks that can be done by trained professionals; there are many of those tasks that can be done by professional mediators; there are many of those that can be done by an unsworn, unarmed security officer or Parks Department employee depending on the situation.”
Spectrum News 1 investigative reporter Natalie Brunell found that LAPD has spent as much as $100,000 on private security for City Council President Nury Martinez. At the same time, Martinez has been calling for the redirection of up to $150 million of LAPD funds to go to communities of color. Some argue that Martinez is a hypocrite for having a security detail but also calling for a reduction in LAPD funding.
“On the occasion when I have had protests at my home, LAPD has offered to respond, and I have very politely declined, unless there's some incident that my neighbors are alarmed by or my neighbors report, because I want to see the deployment in the streets,” Bonin said. “I think the decision about security for public officials should be made by people based on security considerations and not on political considerations, and that goes both ways.”
Bonin is advocating for better neighborhood and public safety in the city of L.A.
“In the budget we’re dealing with right now, in the immediate budget, it is actually increasing spending for LAPD while cutting neighborhood patrols and lengthening 911 response times, while cutting the Emergency Management Department, which is baffling to me, and delaying the purchase of safety equipment by the fire department,” he said. “Those are all disinvestments in public safety. It’s not a question of how much money, it’s a question of where the percentage of investments are going.”
Bonin said L.A. needs to be smarter with its resources and use armed law enforcement officers only for situations that require them. Less expensive and less confrontational intervention methods can be used for situations like mental health crises and off-leash dog laws, he said.
As Black Lives Matter protests continue across the U.S., Bonin said he’s been reflecting on things he’s done wrong in the past.
“I wish I had done more to re-evaluate the nature policing in Los Angeles earlier. Looking back, I wish I had drawn greater attention earlier to structural and systemic racism here in Los Angeles and around the country,” he said. “It’s no coincidence that there is a higher rate of death due to COVID from African Americans and Latinos. They tend to be lower income service workers who are contracting this, and because those workers are disproportionately Black and Latino, they've been dying at different rates, and the quality of health care by race and by ethnicity differs in this city.”
Bonin said there’s “structural racism built into everything,” including health care, education, housing, law enforcement, criminal justice, and municipal budgeting.
He told the L.A. City Budget Committee that “if we are aware of this, and we know that systemic racism is a problem, every action we take is either one that supports that or subtracts from it.”
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