LAPD union launches billboard campaign targeting city officials
The campaign criticizes police budget cuts and the city's response to a recent uptick in violent crime
By Josh Cain and Elizabeth Chou
Daily News, Los Angeles
LOS ANGELES — As the battle over budget cuts that could lead to layoffs for hundreds of police officers heats up, LAPD's rank-and-file union is planning to raise $10 million to target political candidates and legislation it opposes.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League last week sent ballots to around 9,800 rank-and-file officers to vote on whether to take $22 out of each paycheck over the next two years to contribute to the union's political fights. The ballots are expected to be counted around the end of the month.
According to the union's campaign flyer, much of the fund — dubbed the "Protecting Our Profession Assessment" — would be earmarked for the 2022 election, when hundreds of statewide and local races will be held. L.A. will elect a new mayor that year, and eight city council members will be up for reelection.
In the meantime, some of that money would also be spent to erect billboards across the city targeting council members. Three will go up in the districts of frequent critics of LAPD, Mike Bonin of the Westside and Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Curren Price, both of South L.A.
In the Valley, the union is going after Councilwomen Nury Martinez and Monica Rodriguez. Both have more nuanced positions on police, but they also have powerful positions in city government: Martinez is the council's president and Rodriguez chairs the public safety committee.
The billboards would include crime statistics reflecting a steep rise in shootings and shooting victims this year. Last month, homicides in L.A. rose past 300 for the first time since 2009. Officials, including LAPD Chief Michel Moore, have fretted about the potential effects of eliminating more police jobs right as the city deals with increasing violence.
"Our question to them is really simple: What's your plan to address this rise in violence?," said Dustin DeRollo, a union spokesman. "Is your plan, 'Let's lay off a thousand cops?'"
As L.A. reels from the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, the union has been wrangling with city budget officials and Mayor Eric Garcetti over proposed cuts intended to plug a nearly $675 million shortfall.
The city's budget needs to be cut around 3% across the board, advisors said in their third-quarter report released in early December. At the time, they said that would mean eliminating nearly 1,900 jobs. About three-quarters of those job cuts were targeting LAPD sworn and civilian positions.
The city has since brought that number down to around 355 sworn officers and 250 civilian LAPD employees, according to LAPD Chief Michel Moore. But those cuts are on top of the 250 officers LAPD lost when the city cut $150 million from the departmen'ts budget in response to widespread protests over the summer.
Councilman Bonin has said repeatedly that LAPD officers should defer the more than 3% pay raises they're owed at the start of 2021 to help the city get into better financial shape. In November, Craig Lally, the union's president, turned down a meeting with city officials over the budget crisis.
For her part, Rodriguez said Tuesday the union should return to the bargaining table to help prevent layoffs.
"In my district, lines at food pantries extend for blocks, families are on the edge of homelessness, and small businesses are closing for good," she said in an email. "Now is the time for everyone to come to the table to find and fund solutions — not spend millions of dollars on billboards intended to stoke fear."
Martinez's office did not respond to a request for comment.
The union's effort comes as police unions across the country try to stem ebbing public support for law enforcement and rising calls for defunding police departments.
A Loyola Marymount University survey of Los Angeles residents published last week showed well over one-third of Los Angeles residents would be OK with dismantling the department and putting the money elsewhere. Nearly half supported calls to defund the police department.
The loss of police officers this year is only one of the possible factors in rising shooting violence. Moore has said repeatedly that he believes stress from the pandemic and the resulting economic fallout has likely contributed to frustrations boiling over into violent conflicts.
And he noted that violence has increased in most big cities across America as the pandemic worsened, including those that haven't cut their police departments.
The city is also facing issues getting services to residents most likely to be involved in or be affected by gang violence.
At Tuesday's police commission meeting, Anne Tremblay, who leads the mayor's Gang Reduction and Youth Development office, said intervention workers are struggling to reach at-risk young people and their families because of the isolating effects of the pandemic.
However, Moore has also said the cuts, which he described as "draconian" in a press conference Tuesday, have already affected LAPD's ability to continue staffing specialized units, including detectives investigating violent crimes.
Detectives from across the department have been redeployed to South L.A., where most of the shootings have occurred. But that means fewer investigators for crimes still happening in other parts of the city.
Moore said he was hopeful city financial officials and the union could come to an agreement over the budget soon.
"These are difficult times," he said. "I look to our elected official to find ways ... that the safety of this city can be protected."
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