While a low-grade temblor shook the walls of Los Angeles City Hall on Wednesday night, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced an unprecedented plan to siphon up to $150 million from the Los Angeles Police Department budget as protesters continue to demand transformational policing reform. That’s part of a larger effort to move $250 million from all city departments, including the LAPD, and use it to address health, education and employment in black communities.
Beyond the historic announcement, Garcetti also pledged to address several important juvenile justice issues, including using some of the LAPD funds to invest in youth development programming for communities of color, expanding juvenile diversion efforts and freezing new additions to the state’s controversial gang database.
Thousands have been arrested across L.A. in protests over police violence that started after a widely shared video showed a Minneapolis police officer killing George Floyd, an unarmed black man. In addition to voicing anger about police violence toward African Americans, protesters have called on Garcetti to divert millions in LAPD funding into community-oriented programs.
Calling the effort to shift money away from the Police Department “the beginning of justice,” Garcetti said he would work with city officials to identify $100 million to $150 million in cuts from LAPD’s current $1.8 billion budget, mirroring a similar proposal by the L.A. City Council that would shift more money to communities of color. Garcetti had originally planned to award the police a 7% increase in the next year’s budget, even as the city’s coffers have been devastated by the coronavirus.
Groups like Black Lives Matter, the Community Coalition and others have called for the city to use just 5.7% of its $10.5 billion budget on policing and law enforcement in its “people’s budget.” LAPD currently accounts for 17.6% of the city’s planned budget, and police spending represents more than half of the city’s general revenue fund.
Jared O’Brien, a 21-year-old organizer with the Youth Justice Coalition, said that while he was glad to hear Garcetti acknowledge the importance of youth development programs, $150 million is nowhere near enough to create lasting change for youth in black and brown communities.
For years the Youth Justice Coalition has called on the city and county to steer money from the LAPD, the Sheriff’s Department and the Probation Department and create a dedicated youth development agency run by community groups. Right now, only some of the money that Garcetti is proposing would go to youth development, though he is yet to offer any specific details on the plan.
O’Brien said the group will redouble its efforts to wrest more money from the city for services aimed at young people. It would like to see the city spend $200 million from the budgets of the LAPD and City Attorney’s Office to create 50 youth centers, 25,000 youth jobs and 500 intervention workers in schools and in communities.
“We don’t want this to be something that’s talked about for a while and then put back on the shelf, like we’ve seen so many times before,” O’Brien said.
Along with programs designed to support youth in underinvested communities of color, Garcetti said he wanted “to ensure that as few juveniles as possible see the criminal justice system.” As part of a proposal announced with members of L.A.’s police commission, Garcetti said he would expand opportunities for the police to divert young people instead of charging them with a crime in all of the LAPD’s 21 divisions as well as expand the scope of such programs.
According to the LAPD, five community-based organizations offer pre-arrest diversion services to most parts of the city. In 2019, 520 youth were diverted from charges. That number has risen from 259 in 2018 and 197 in 2017.
According to an agreement worked out in 2017, youth who commit non–serious, nonviolent offenses are eligible to participate in programs run by community-based organizations. Successful completion of those programs will result in the police tossing out the arrest.
Jessica Ellis, who runs Centinela Youth Services — one of the community partners that works with the LAPD — is heartened to see a heightened focus on juvenile diversion, including earmarking money for diversion for the first time. But she is even more excited by investment in youth development programs.
“Diversion is a stopgap system to keep kids from getting stuck in the justice system,” Ellis said. “I would love to see diversion be put out of business because we did such a good job in our community that kids are being supported the way they should be to reach their full potential.”
Some advocacy groups like the Youth Justice Coalition have called on city and county leaders to force law enforcement to provide juvenile diversion all youth younger than15 who are arrested, regardless of the offense. Others also want to see young adults have the opportunity to receive community-based diversion services.
Garcetti also announced that he would place a moratorium on the LAPD placing more people in the state’s CalGang database. Law enforcement agencies across the state have placed more than 78,000 names of those with alleged gang ties on the list, and 90% of those are black or Latinx. Forty percent of the names in the statewide database were supplied by LAPD or the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
A 2016 state audit of the database said it too often lacked appropriate oversight over data that can be accessed by every law enforcement agency in the state and often failed to provide enough notification to the families of juveniles placed on the list. More recently, the California Department of Justice said in February that it would investigate claims that LAPD officers had placed some young people in the system with no gang affiliation.
Sean Garcia-Leys, an attorney with the Urban Peace Institute, said he was pleased with the decision to temporarily stop adding names to the database while the L.A. Police Commission completes a review of the LAPD’s use of it. But he hopes that the LAPD goes further than a mere review of its use of the CalGang database.
The current system gives officers an incentive to make “suspicion-less stops, intrusive searches and confrontational encounters,” Garcia-Leys said.
“The burden should be on law enforcement to prove that this is a tool that works,” he said. “Until that’s done, it shouldn’t be used at all.”
Rather than a victory, O’Brien of the Youth Justice Coalition sees Garcetti’s proposals are less of a victory and more of the first step in bigger changes that he hopes will come soon. Next Friday, O’Brien and other youth advocates will lead their own march to downtown L.A., demanding city and county leaders divert more money from law enforcement coffers and invest in alternatives like intervention workers.
“A lot of time, decisions about our futures are made for us by politicians,” he said. “It’s time that ends.”
Jeremy Loudenback is a senior editor for The Chronicle of Social Change and can be reached at email@example.com.