Cop backlash brings funding cuts, more community engagement

Sheriff’s budget comes under attack


LAW-ABIDING—Dep. Rick Baldi from the Lost Hills Sheriff Community Impact Team meets with members of a family in Calabasas to discuss coronavirus safety. The L.A. County Board of Supervisors is directing more funds toward non-jail, law enforcement alternatives such as community education and policing. Courtesy City of Calabasas

LAW-ABIDING—Dep. Rick Baldi from the Lost Hills Sheriff Community Impact Team meets with members of a family in Calabasas to discuss coronavirus safety. The L.A. County Board of Supervisors is directing more funds toward non-jail, law enforcement alternatives such as community education and policing. Courtesy City of Calabasas

Amid the growing cry to defund police and set new priorities for law enforcement, one local government is wasting little time.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors last month passed a budget that cut more than $145 million from sheriff’s department funding.

The county’s general fund revenue is approximately $8.8 billion, of which 42% goes toward law enforcement and the courts.

Further efforts to defund the nation’s largest policing force are also in the works.

This week the supervisors agreed to put a measure on the November ballot that would redirect 10% of the county’s general fund revenue away from the sheriff’s department, the district attorney’s office, the superior courts and the probation office.

The funds would be reinvested in community programs including youth development, job training, aid for minority owned businesses and community based restorative justice programs.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva criticized the motion and said it would put the public’s safety at risk.

“When you try to dismantle law enforcement and the primary source of public safety services to the community, you are endangering the public,” Villanueva said at a board of supervisors meeting. “This is going to impact the people that can least afford a lack of law enforcement protection.”

The move to cut sheriff’s funding also was criticized by the California League of Cities, a 120-year-old Sacramento based organization that represents the interests of the state’s municipalities.

A statement from supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis, who authored the motion, said the idea came in response to the wave of socially-focused protests that have swept the country since the death of George Floyd, who was killed at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis in May.

Many of the protests have called for decreased police funding and greater focus on social welfare programs that would address the impoverishment and inequity that disproportionately affects minority communities.

“This pandemic has exposed the racial and ethnic disparities that have existed for far too long,” Solis said.

“Maintaining the status quo is unacceptable. Institutional racism permeates every level of our society, and this plays out every day in our Black and brown communities, where inadequate investments have limited their ability to access the essential services and programs they need to survive,” she said. “Decades of under-investment are also partly responsible for the high COVID-19 case rates in our communities of color.”

The defunding measure was vocally opposed by the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, a collective bargaining group that represents 8,000 deputies.

Local policing

The cities of Calabasas, Agoura Hills and Westlake Village contract individually with the L.A. County sheriff for law enforcement, and at least one local official is concerned that if voters pass the motion to defund, it will leave fewer deputies to patrol neighborhood streets

Calabasas City Councilmember James Bozajian said the ballot measure that takes away 10% of sheriff’s funding cannot be reversed. He also took issue with the larger impact of the proposed cuts—that it wouldn’t be just the sheriff’s department that is impacted, but the county’s entire criminal justice system.

“They’re going to cut district attorney’s (funding), which means that they won’t be able to staff court rooms; they won’t be able to prosecute violent crime; they won’t be able to lock people up. The men’s jail will probably have to close or reduce operations,” Bozajian said.

“All these things are consequences. It’s kind of an all-or-nothing thing and it’s all just to make a political statement. I strongly oppose it. I’ll do everything in my power to convince people to vote no.”

Bozajian said he’s confident that even though the county tends to lean liberal, the ballot measure to defund police, which is seen as a liberal cause, will fail in November.

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