By Cres Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA — More than $1 million—and a number of Los Angeles County deputies—were cut from the sheriff’s dept. contract here last week, after what social justice groups are calling a “historic” vote by the West Hollywood City Council in response to community concerns.
The “WeHo” council vote will “reallocate $1.6 million from the sheriff’s contract to a different model of security. Council agreed to invest in its own alternative crisis response team as well as the replacement of armed Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) deputies at next year’s Pride parade,” according to community advocates.
There are 42 cities in Southern California that contract with the sheriff’s dept., and WeHo is the first in LA County’s “history to successfully challenge the skyrocketing costs of its annual service agreement with the LASD,” the groups noted.
While $1.6 appears to be a significant cut from the LASD, the WeHo Public Safety Commission recommended the City Council direct $3.6 million out of the sheriff’s contract into social services such as mental health, alternative crisis response teams, and permanent supportive housing.
Newly appointed WeHo Police Captain Bill Moulder claimed during the city council meeting that a “lack of deputies has resulted in skyrocketing grand theft in the city.”
However, local social justice groups maintain the “grand theft” cases are largely stolen cell phones at nightclubs.
“With 60 LASD Officers in the two square mile city, soaking up one sixth of the annual budget, the Department admitted that the thefts it solved summed up to 2 out of 249 stolen phones,” said the groups.
The campaign to reallocate dollars from LASD to social services has been supported by the 17th president of the NAACP, founder of CalEITC4Me, former mayors, and more.
Critics said city staff “ignored data, residents’ demands, as well as the Safety Commission’s recommendations –– and proposed allocating an additional $1,030,000 to LASD this year plus $500,000 to audit the sheriff department’s self-audit.”
Community organizations such as JusticeLA, Partners for Justice, Fund for Guaranteed Income, CURB, La Defensa, Dignity and Power Now, Gender Justice LA, Re-Imagine LA Coalition, and ACLU along with West Hollywood residents were involved in the effort to cut the LASD budget.
Ivette Alé-Ferlito, Dignity and Power Now’s Director of Policy and Advocacy said, “West Hollywood City Council’s decision to significantly reduce the reallocation of funding from the corrupt and fiscally incompetent Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department is indefensible. As a Queer migrant organizer, I and many others in the community would like to see a full transformation of WeHo’s public safety system.
Alé-Ferlito added, “The Public Safety Committee’s proposal to shift $3.6 million from the Sheriff’s budget was not that; it was simply a pragmatic step towards a more holistic vision that prioritizes care, and the Council could not deliver. The $2.4 million dollars they chose not to reallocate means that community-based services like HIV prevention, alternative crisis response, and mental health care will remain underfunded.
“Queer, Trans, Black, Brown, low income and otherwise vulnerable community members will continue to be most impacted by the Council’s lack of political will. We encourage West Hollywood leadership to stop tinkering at the margins and make the bold decisions their residents so desperately need.”
Ambrose Brooks, JusticeLA Coalition coordinator, said, “West Hollywood City Council’s June 27 budget vote is a step in the right direction: away from funding Sheriff’s violence and towards investing in care. The LA County Sheriff’s Department is charging contract cities tens of millions of dollars each year to criminalize Black, Brown, Queer, and Trans communities.”
Brooks argued, “All this while LASD imposes astronomical liability costs on cities with limited operating budgets. Other Los Angeles County contract cities must take the same path as West Hollywood, and also re-evaluate their costly contracts with LASD.”
During the meeting last week, WeHo residents, according to LASD critics, “expressed their frustrations with the Sheriff’s department budget and contract,” noting “hundreds of letters were sent to Council over the past several months as residents learned the amount of money the city spends on one Sheriff’s deputy.”
“WeHo’s bold yet insufficient decision to reallocate funds from the largest and deadliest sheriff’s department in the world laid down the gauntlet for other contract cities. The Council’s decision indicates what is possible, and what is next, in LA county –– the reimagination of public safety as investments in community-based alternatives to law enforcement,” according to a statement issued by the social justice groups.