DISTRICT 4 Press Releases
Councilmember Nithya Raman Statement On LAPD Contract Vote
For Immediate Release: August 23, 2023
COUNCILMEMBER NITHYA RAMAN STATEMENT ON LAPD CONTRACT VOTE
LOS ANGELES — Today, Councilmember Nithya Raman voted against approving the proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the Police Officers, Lieutenant, and Below Representation Unit, and issued the following statement in Council Chambers:
I’m out in the district a lot, and I talk to constituents all the time, and the issue of public safety comes up all the time. And more and more, I hear from people that when they don’t feel safe and they call for help, they do not feel like the city responds in a way that meets their needs.
Either they call the LAPD non-emergency line and wait on hold until they give up, or they call 911 and the dispatchers say they can’t do anything, or nobody shows up, or when they do show up they say they can’t do anything, or even that they call 911 and have to wait a long time – far too long – to have someone pick up.
And so all this makes them feel even less safe and creates a cycle of anxiety and resentment and a lot of pain for a lot of neighborhoods.
And I believe that a lot of these problems are driven by short staffing. We are operating at a severe shortage in pretty much every single city department right now, and that includes our total public safety response: we’re down something like 250 911 operators, we’re at a 10% deficit in the fire department, and we’re short hundreds of officers at LAPD, which is what we’re talking about today.
A shortage of public safety responders is a problem. We desperately need LA to be a city where, whenever you call for help, someone shows up – and it’s the right person to respond to your issue. That is how we build a sense of trust and safety in the city and within communities. And you need people to accomplish that goal – to receive the calls and oversee the dispatch and send out into the field and help resolve the myriad and sometimes dangerous issues that come up.
So I’m very sympathetic to the stated goals of this contract: we have a shortage of city staff charged with handling public safety, and we need to be working towards addressing those gaps with urgency. In response, the new MOU offers a 14% increase to the starting salary and large retention bonuses.
But I have to center our broader goal – a safe city where someone who can resolve your issue shows up when you call – and I’m very concerned that this contract doesn’t get us closer to that vision, and likely gets us farther away, while also likely not meeting its own goals of recruitment and retention within LAPD.
I want to first look at one part of the CAO’s report. The bulk of the budget impact in this contract is a 27% increase to the starting salary for an officer joining the academy over four years. The report says that the premise behind this is that “Los Angeles must provide competitive salaries in order to be a more attractive employer than other law enforcement agencies in the region.”
And these other neighboring departments are listed.
Unfortunately, the evidence just does not support that premise. Because these departments are also facing recruitment issues and staffing shortages – the exact same issues LAPD is dealing with, with many of their shortages larger than LAPD’s:
- Beverly Hills has a shortage.
- Glendale has a shortage.
- Long Beach has a shortage.
- Santa Monica has a record shortage.
- Torrance has 20% vacancy.
- LASD has 1200 sworn vacancies.
- San Francisco PD, which is not listed in the report, has $100,000 starting salaries and 25% shortages.
Data around resignations from the department also does not support that the majority of people leaving LAPD are going to these other departments – of the total number of resignations from 2017 until now were 177 to go to another agency, and 809 who resigned to leave policing altogether – 422 of those did so while in the academy.
Police staffing issues are not just the product of the last three years, or of the George Floyd protests. In 2016 the LA Police Protective League ran a campaign against what they called critically low staffing levels on patrol, and advocated for more civilians to be hired so that officers could focus on police work. In 2019, before the protests that are so often blamed for police staffing issues, the Police Executive Research Forum reported that 86% of departments were experiencing a shortage. And the data shows that almost every single department across the country has been steadily losing officers, at a rate that is comparable to LA’s situation.
I want to be very clear: I’m not coming to this at all from a place of wanting to eliminate our police response – I believe we need the capacity to defend our residents against violence and crime and to investigate it effectively when it happens, and hold perpetrators accountable for harms. And our staff works with the department every day – we have Senior Lead Officers who are among our best partners in the field, and who my staff and I believe to be among the best officers in the entire City of Los Angeles. And I am not coming to this from being against giving a fair salary increase to any of our incredible and hard working city workers, especially to help staff keep up with rising inflation and the enormous rise in the cost of living in this city.
But what we need to be doing is creating a system that really works, that makes us resilient to national, macro trends on both crime and peace officer staffing.
We have not had a history of doing that in this city.
In 2019, when we last negotiated police salaries, the increase we handed out, even as staffing and recruitment continued to decline, actually put the city from a surplus into a deficit, and we had to go to other departments asking them to make cuts. This was pre-COVID, during a time of robust economic growth – and it put us in an even more dire financial and operational position when COVID hit.
I entered city government then, to a hollowed-out city workforce, which continues to reel from vacancies. And major threats to our public safety are simply unable to be addressed. I don’t have staff at DBS to inspect bad actor developers in the hillsides, increasing our threat of mudslides during our torrential rains. I can’t get abandoned buildings that pose fire and safety risks to their neighborhoods secured and closed off fast enough. I can’t get sidewalks repaired, I can’t get trees trimmed, I can’t design and build traffic lights and safer streets at a rate anywhere near what this city’s deadly streets call for. I can’t get 911 calls answered quickly and effectively because the department also has a massive shortage. And this contract, because of its enormous fiscal impact, potentially prevents us from being able to build out an alternative response to non-violent calls for service, which are the majority of 911 calls – many of which are calls regarding homelessness and mental health issues – a system that if we actually invested in building it out city wide, we could actually free up armed response for violent and serious crime.
We won’t lose a step in the system if we can build out a public safety response that truly makes sense for LA, that makes sense for the range of public safety issues that this city deals with. We won’t lose a step when we’re hit with a financial crisis or the macro trends that caused these shortages in the first place. We can be actually expanding our public safety response while other cities are cutting back because of poor investments they’ve made.
The vision we need to be working towards – where someone shows up when you call for help and it’s the right person for whatever your issue is – I feel a very powerful responsibility to move us toward that vision.
I fear that this contract, with its enormous fiscal impact on the city, leaves us less capable of doing that. And I will be voting no today.