By SARAH SHMERLING | Editor-in-Chief
More than 400 attendees virtually tuned into Councilmember Mike Bonin’s most recent Town Hall, which focused on the topic of crime and public safety for just under two hours on Monday evening, November 16.
Bonin was joined by Chief of Los Angeles Police Department Michel Moore and City of Los Angeles Deputy Mayor of Public Safety Jeff Gorell to provide brief overviews before responding to a series of questions from constituents and Angelenos.
“We’re living in very strange and uncertain and turbulent times right now,” Bonin shared at the start of the town hall. “We have a raging pandemic that continues to have increasing numbers that are killing our neighbors and loved ones.”
He then explained that at the same time, largely due to the pandemic and ensuing closures, Los Angeles is facing what he described as an “unprecedented financial crisis.”
“This year’s budget was unveiled in April—there was a best case scenario that we would be in a hole of $50 million, in a worst-case scenario, $400 million,” Bonin explained. “It turns out now that perhaps our best-case scenario is $500 or $600 million, and we are almost halfway through the fiscal year.”
He said the city of LA is in a “moment of deep pain and deep reckoning” when it comes to its budget, and that cuts will be felt throughout the entire city—including LAPD.
Moore began his address to the town hall by touching on his time as chief, which began two and a half years ago, explaining that “effective partnerships” and “shared responsibility” of public safety are paramount to LAPD’s success.
When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, Moore said the “city is still reeling,” that it is trying to come to terms with understanding the “fiscal disaster” caused by the pandemic. Part of that, he explained, has been cutting back in police staffing.
Largely through attrition, LAPD will reduce its number of personnel—but will continue to have a presence in all 21 of the designated areas within its jurisdiction.
“These staffing levels are challenging,” Moore shared. “These are staffing levels that we have not seen in more than a decade.”
Moore added that LAPD will continue to invest in its community and partnerships, including staying invested with senior leads, the Community Safety Partner bureau, and with outreach and engagement at the neighborhood level.
According to information provided by Moore, though crime in Los Angeles is down by about 9%, there have been increases in shooting violence and homicide throughout the city. The decreases are seen in areas that are impacted by COVID-19, such as thefts because retail establishments have been closed and burglaries where people are staying home.
Moore added LAPD needs additional volunteers—he began an endeavor a couple of years ago to build up a volunteer corps. He described volunteer positions as “COVID safe,” that volunteers assist at station houses and can help on citizen patrols.
A majority of the questions that were addressed during the Q&A portion of the town hall were related to crime and public safety in the Venice area, which is facing potential cuts to its beach detail program and has seen an increase in people experiencing homelessness.
“The way to make sure that we do not have tents on our sidewalks is to make sure that people don’t have to live in tents,” Bonin shared. “That’s the simple equation.”
Gorell joined the conversation to explain that “there’s not a day that goes by that [Mayor Eric Garcetti] is not focused on homelessness and on crime associated with homelessness.”
“We’re constantly learning,” Gorell said. “It’s not that we’re not taking the lessons and moving forward and trying to think outside of the box, every single day that’s happening.”
In order to achieve this, Bonin said, efforts to house individuals need to be ramped up, that the “city needs to break its addiction on slow and expensive solutions” and invest in more immediate ideas.
Moore was asked a series of questions about how LAPD will meet budget cuts: Bonin explained that one way is that officers will no longer respond to traffic collisions with no crime, which will free up additional resources to respond to 911 calls and patrol. Reports will be shifted to an online form.
“People are going to feel that pinch,” Moore said. “That’s not meant to be punishing, it’s meant to say, let’s think about that—an officer spends about two and a half hours on the traffic collision investigation that doesn’t result in any criminal prosecution, it’s a report that’s generated for insurance purposes or statistical computation.”
A bulk of the conversation was focused on the 4.5 million calls to 911 centers each year—most of which are not a police or fire matter. But because LAPD is on-call 24/7, they end up responding to a majority of the calls that come in—for example, responding to a vicious dog in the neighborhood call because Animal Control is not available at the time.
“These are tough times and these are tough issues and tough decisions to be made going forward,” Bonin shared at the conclusion of the town hall. “And there times there is not going to be universal agreement on everything, but what I heard tonight was a considerable amount of common ground between the panelists, which is that we need to be creating the alternative responses so that LAPD is not the agency that gets called for every single thing in the city of Los Angeles.”
Other town halls, which will be on topics such as mental health, are in the works for future dates.
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