By Cres Vellucci
Sacramento Vanguard Office
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA More than $1 million and a number of Los Angeles County deputies were stripped from the Sheriff’s Department contract here last week after what social justice groups call a historic council vote West Hollywood City Council in response to community concerns.
The WeHo board’s vote will reallocate $1.6 million from the sheriffs’ contract to a different security model. The council has agreed to invest in its own alternative crisis response team as well as replacing armed Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) deputies at next year’s Pride Parade, according to community advocates.
There, in 42 Southern California cities that have contracted with the Sheriff’s Department, and WeHo is the first in Los Angeles County history to successfully challenge the skyrocketing costs of its annual service agreement with the LASD, the groups noted.
While $1.6 seems like a big cut from LASD, the WeHo Public Safety Commission has recommended that the city council spend $3.6 million of the sheriffs’ contract on social services like mental health, alternative teams crisis intervention and permanent supportive housing.
Newly appointed WeHo Police Captain Bill Moulder claimed at the city council meeting that the lack of deputies has led to a spike in large-scale thefts in the city.
However, local social justice groups maintain that the grand theft cases are largely cellphones stolen from nightclubs.
With 60 LASD agents in the two-square-mile city, absorbing one-sixth of the annual budget, the Department admitted that the thefts it had solved amounted to 2 phones stolen out of 249the groups said.
Critics said city staff ignored data, residents’ requests, as well as safety commission recommendations and proposed to allocate an additional $1,030,000 to LASD this year, plus $500,000 to audit the self-audit of sheriff’s departments.
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, as well as residents of West Hollywood, participated in the effort to reduce the LSD Budget.
Ivette Al-Ferlito, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Dignity and Power Nows, said, “The West Hollywood City Council’s decision to significantly reduce the reallocation of funds from the corrupt and fiscally incompetent Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department is indefensible. As a Queer migrant organizer, myself and many other members of the community would like to see a complete transformation of WeHo’s public safety system.
Al-Ferlito added: The public safety committees’ proposal to transfer $3.6 million from the sheriffs budget was not that; it was simply a pragmatic step towards a more holistic vision that puts care first, and the Council could not do that. The $2.4 million they chose not to reallocate means that community services like HIV prevention, alternative crisis interventions and mental health care will remain underfunded.
Queer, trans, black, brown, low-income and otherwise vulnerable community members will continue to be most affected by the councils’ lack of political will. We encourage West Hollywood leaders to stop tinkering at the margins and make the bold decisions their residents desperately need.
Ambrose Brooks, coordinator of the JusticeLA Coalition, said the June 27 vote on the West Hollywood city council budget is a step in the right direction: moving away from funding sheriff violence and investing in care. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department charges 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 need to follow the same path as West Hollywood and also re-evaluate their expensive contracts with LASD.
During last week’s meeting, WeHo residents, according to LASD critics, expressed frustration with the sheriff’s department’s budget and contract, noting hundreds of letters were sent to Council in recent months when residents learned of the amount of money the city spends on a sheriff’s deputy.
WeHo’s bold but insufficient move to reallocate funds from the world’s biggest and deadliest sheriff’s department has thrown down the gauntlet for other contract cities. The Council’s decision signals what is possible, and what is next, in Los Angeles County’s reimagining of public safety as investments in community alternatives to law enforcement, according to the released statement. by social justice groups.
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