The largest union representing LAPD employees recently said it plans to tell negotiators during contract talks that it is OK with other groups taking over a variety of non-emergency calls currently handled by police, in order to allow officers to focus on more serious crimes.
According to the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL), which represents sworn officers up to the rank of lieutenant, negotiators will propose to the city that other agencies — either governmental or nonprofit — respond to calls related to panhandling, illegal sidewalk vending, urinating in public, mental health episodes without threats of violence or criminal activity, and dangerous dog complaints without an attack in progress.
The union said such a strategy could boost morale and help officers solve more cases amid current staffing shortages.
“Police officers are sent to too many calls that are better suited for unarmed service providers,” LAPPL President Craig Lally said.
The LAPPL noted that the department has lost 800 officers since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and believes outsourcing some calls can defray the burden.
City Councilmember Tim McOsker told the Los Angeles Times he is looking forward to developing the city’s “unarmed response” programs.
“On this list are calls for service that reasonably and safely don’t require an armed officer,” said McOsker, who previously represented the LAPD union as an attorney.
Under the new proposal, calls such as responding to homeless encampment cleanups, welfare checks, or calls related to illegal dumping, fireworks, noisy parties or drinking in public would be outsourced away from the LAPD to crisis workers, mental health professionals and community response teams.
Two newly elected councilmembers, Eunisses Hernandez and Hugo Soto-Martinez, also support shifting certain nonviolent calls away from police. The two have made previous proposals to move traffic enforcement and nonviolent mental health calls away from police. The LAPPL has favored having other agencies respond to non-injury traffic accidents, but says police need to retain most traffic enforcement duties given that the city is struggling with rising traffic death rates for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.
Hernandez, who defeated an incumbent backed by the LAPD union in the last election, shares a vision similar to many progressives who sought to defund the police after the death of George Floyd.
“I’m encouraged to hear officers of the LAPD take this first step towards joining in this vision, and I look forward to discussing how we can continue to reimagine our public safety system to prioritize unarmed, life-affirming alternatives to crisis response for Los Angeles,” Hernandez said in a statement.
Mayor Karen Bass was less supportive of the proposal.
“Taken as a whole, this proposal would compromise public safety,” Bass spokesperson Zach Seidl said. “But we welcome discussion of proposals that would make our neighborhoods safer.”
Seidl said the mayor’s public safety strategy aims to address homelessness and mental health crises, and improve trust between the LAPD and the community. Bass also promised to create a public safety office that would not involve police during her campaign.
Councilmembers are also looking to divert $1 million to establish an Office of Unarmed Response and Safety.