'Defund The Police' push divides local lawmakers in California's big cities

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The “Defund The Police” movement that has gained national traction in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor – and the ensuing protests against police brutality and racial injustice – is dividing elected officials in cities throughout California.

In a state whose history of malfeasance by the police dates back long before the infamous beating of Rodney King in 1991 – arguably the first viral moment on police brutality – mayors and city council members across California appear divided over the calls from activists and protesters to cut funding to local law enforcement agencies.

In Los Angeles – the United States’ second-largest city and an area with a long history of police misconduct – Mayor Eric Garcetti announced last week that the city would abruptly reverse plans for boosting LAPD’s spending and instead redirect $250 million from the city budget into programs for health care, jobs and “healing” aimed largely at the black community.

The cuts, which are expected to be between $100 million and $150 million, mean that the LAPD’s annual budget will not increase from $1.189 billion last year to $1.86 billion. Most of the budget increase was meant to be allocated for new police bonuses.

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“It starts someplace, and we say we are going to be who we want to be, or we’re going to continue being the killers that we are,” Garcetti said last week.

That comment drew the ire of the city’s police union, which warned the cut in spending would lead to more crime.

The Democratic mayor “smeared every single police officer in Los Angeles and across the nation by calling us killers,” union board member Jamie McBride said. It's “offensive. It's wrong.”

At a briefing last Friday, Garcetti said the shift in funding “is not an attack on any police officers,” but would come from agencies across city government. He said his comment on “killers” was misunderstood — he said he was referring to the collective burden of society for injustices that remain in the black community.

“We collectively have a choice of whether we'll be those who heal or whether we'll continue being the killers,” he said. “I won't have those words distorted.”

The dispute underscored the shifting challenges for LA’s mayor, who took office in 2013 promising to plug potholes and fix sidewalks but has now assumed the roles of peacemaker and consoler-in-chief in a city wracked by racial unrest, an unyielding homeless crisis and fallout from the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

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Unlike in Los Angeles, the top cop in San Francisco agrees with his mayor’s calls to divert funding away from the police department into other social programs.

Last week, San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Shamann Walton said they would work to shift some funding away from the SAPD into programs supporting “the African-American community.” The SFPD has an annual budget of $674 million budget and a force of 2,300 officers.

While the mayor and supervisor were scant on the specifics on what programs the diverted money would be channeled into, Walton told local media that “at least $25 million” would need to be redirected from the police department “if we are really trying to change some of the systemic issues oppressing black people here in San Francisco.”

SFPD Chief Bill Scott did not push back on the idea, instead saying he is “open” to shifting some funding away from his department.

“We’re at a time in policing in this country where the whole world is speaking to us and we need to hear what’s being said,” Scott said on Monday. “And what’s being said is we have to change the way we do policing in this country. And I think for me, I’m open to that.”

Not every city in California, however, is as open to the idea of defunding police departments.

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Earlier this week, members of the San Diego City Council voted to increase the budget for the city’s law enforcement agency.

After a marathon session of more than 12 hours – that included 400 people calling in and around 4,000 emails calling for a defunding of the police force – the San Diego City Council voted 8-1 to increase funding to the police department by $27 million to $566 million.

The overall police budget for the city has increased from $480 million since 2018 due to pay raises in the force. The council, however, did agree to create a new city Office on Race and Equity and to increase rent relief funding by nearly $5 million to $15.1 million.

Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer did not return Fox News’ request for comment, but he has said in the past that any increase in funding would go to previously approved pay raises and to any expenses tied to the coronavirus pandemic.

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It is not just cities with Republican lawmakers that are pushing back against the idea of defunding police departments. Much like on the national stage – where Democratic congressional leaders are pushing for reforms and oversight of police departments rather than defunding – many Democratic mayors throughout the Golden State are nixing the idea of trimming down the amount of money that goes into their law enforcement agencies.

Sam Liccardo, the Democratic mayor of San Jose, said in a statement on Sunday that his upcoming budget proposal will have a focus on reforming the city’s police department, but it will not include any moves to defund the law enforcement agency.

“We have much work to do to confront our long and terrible history of police brutality against black and brown Americans,” Liccardo said, according to the San Jose Mercury-News. “Defunding urban police departments won’t help us do it. It is the wrong idea at the worst possible time and the budget released tomorrow will reflect that.”

In the state capital, despite calls from an incoming Sacramento city councilwoman to cut the police department’s budget by $10 million, it appears her colleagues and Democratic Mayor Darrell Steinberg aren’t interested in the idea.

Sacramento’s budget document shows that the police department’s budget will jump from $147 million during the current fiscal year to $157.5 million in the fiscal year beginning July 1. The jump, however, will be closer to $3 million as last year’s police budget was actually $154.5 million, the Sacramento Bee reported.

In Minneapolis – the city where Floyd died while in police custody – nine of the City Council’s 12 members appeared with activists at a rally in a city park Sunday afternoon and vowed to end policing as the city currently knows it. Councilmember Jeremiah Ellison has promised that the council would “dismantle” the department.

Sacramento’s Steinberg said a day after Minneapolis made that move that while he sympathizes with the sentiment, there is little chance that there will be any defunding – let along a dismantling – of the city’s police force.

"I don't want to even think in those terms about disbanding the police department," Steinberg told CapRadio's Insight. "I understand the sentiment. I understand the impetus. I understand the defund movement. But maybe there is a bold but more healing conversation to be had."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.