LA Leaders Advance Bid to Reform Police Department

Los Angeles City Hall. (Courthouse News photo/Chris Marshall)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A Los Angeles City Council committee voted unanimously Wednesday to send a package of police reform proposals to the full council for consideration, including a recommendation that police be restricted from responding to mental health emergencies and a bid to make it illegal when people make frivolous 911 calls based on racist beliefs.

LA Councilmember Herb Wesson said city officials are listening and responding to police reform demands stemming from nationwide protests of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other black people by law enforcement.

Floyd was killed on Memorial Day by a white Minneapolis police officer who pinned Floyd to the ground with a knee to the back of his neck until the man died.

Black Lives Matter-led protests in LA have called for reducing the Los Angeles Police Department budget and for the prosecution of officers who kill people and who act unlawfully on and off duty.

“Let’s let it take us as far as it can take us,” Wesson, who is black, said of the Black Lives Matter movement. “If we’re serious about making real change, then this is our moment, and I’m not gonna miss this moment.” 

The five-member committee advanced Wesson’s proposal to develop a crisis response model that diverts emergency calls away from the LAPD and shifts them to city health and social services agencies.

According to Wesson’s motion, the city could develop a model that bars police from responding to incidents where substance abuse, neighbor disputes or mental health crises trigger emergency calls. 

“We have gone from asking the police to be part of the solution, to being the only solution for problems they should not be called on to solve in the first place,” the motion says.

LA Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson amended the proposal with a request that city officials study other countries’ models for emergency responses that aren’t police-based.

“In our country we have gotten far too accustomed, or too addicted to having an armed response to everything,” said Harris-Dawson.

The LA City Council will also consider a motion that would make it illegal for people to make false police reports motivated by racism.

“Without a police report, there is also little recourse for the victim of this type of racially based 911 call to take action of their own,” the motion says. “Additionally, depending on the severity of the call it could result in bodily harm or false arrest of the victim.”

Proposals to both equip every LAPD officer with a body-worn camera and to investigate reports of officers violently attacking peaceful protesters in recent citywide demonstrations against police brutality were also advanced by the committee.

The National Lawyers Guild sued the LAPD in federal court in early June, claiming excessive force and civil rights violations against protesters, including claims of people being detained without access to bathrooms or medical attention.

In response to protests, the LA Police Commission said it would require the LAPD to expand de-escalation training to all officers by the end of the year and train 900 officers in nonviolent mental health intervention.

LA City Councilmember Paul Koretz said in the hearing the Black Lives Matter movement “goes too far” with its demand that officials slash policing funds.

Koretz said immediately cutting LAPD funds would make LA vulnerable to descending into a state of violence as depicted in the movie “The Purge,” a fictional account of acts of unhinged violence in a lawless state.

“When there are allegations against officers they need to be thoroughly investigated,” Koretz said, adding that changing policing “culture” must also be a focus of policymakers. 

Protesters in LA have demanded city officials approve LAPD budget reductions beyond the $150 million in cuts pushed in recent weeks by LA Mayor Eric Garcetti.

On Tuesday evening, LA education officials rejected similar calls to cut funding for the roughly 470-member LA Unified School District police force. The board’s inaction on a set of police reform proposals largely leaves the issue to be addressed by a taskforce set up by LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner, which is slated to deliver its report next month.

Harris-Dawson, who is black, said in the hearing the issue of police reform is personal to him. He shared a story with the committee of LAPD officers pulling him over when he was driving a city-owned vehicle.

“The cop asked me why I had a government car in that part of town,” Harris-Dawson said. “Let me be clear, and this may upset some of my colleagues, I won’t be objective about this issue. I’m not here for symbolic measures.”

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