Let’s get something straight: the City of LA has not defunded the LAPD. Not even close.
Political candidates, the police union, talk radio, and social media are all shouting about defunding and its consequences. There’s a false narrative that says “progressives defunded police, crime is up, and we need more cops (and fewer progressives) to keep us safe.”
But it is a lie — a lie that is making us and our neighborhoods less safe. It is an active, coordinated effort to stop efforts to reimagine public safety, build safe communities, and dismantle systemic racism.
They want you to think that police are the answer to every problem, that you can’t be safe unless we have more and more cops. They don’t want us investing more wisely in things that actually prevent crime: Jobs. Housing. Healthcare. Education. Opportunity.
This year’s LAPD budget is $1.76 billion, a 3% *increase* from last year. LAPD’s budget has increased every year for the past decade, except in 2020–21, when there was a 2% cut that was essentially negated by higher overtime spending. In fact, the police budget is close to 30% of the entire city budget (and 50% of our unrestricted funds). Yet certain people repeatedly insist LAPD has been gutted, and violent crime is spiking as a result. One LA police union director even went on TV to warn people to stay away from LA.
But more police spending doesn’t mean reduced crime. Crime has gone up in years when LAPD got an increase, and has gone down in years it got a cut. And worth noting: violent crime is up nationwide — including in cities that increased police funding even more than LA.
It’s not that we are paying LAPD too little to fight crime; it’s that we are investing too little in preventing crime. LA has barely begun to reimagine public safety, with little more than small pilot programs and stalled legislative efforts to show for it.
To be safe, LA needs big investments in jobs, education, mental health & drug treatment, housing, youth programs, violence interruption, and income assistance. LA voters get it. It’s why they overwhelmingly backed Measure J.
There are plenty of successful models to build upon:
- CAHOOTS in Eugene, Oregon, provides mental health, homelessness, and addiction assistance, diverts 17% of police call volume. It saves the city ~$8.5 million annually, while significantly reducing fatal encounters with law enforcement.
- Maryland has been exploring alternatives to incarceration for drug addiction, diverting offenders into treatment programs. It has experienced annual cost savings of $16K/ person, and better outcomes, including significantly lower rates of recidivism.
- Denver’s Supportive Housing Social Impact Bond Initiative showed that unhoused people who were referred to supportive housing experienced a 34% reduction in police contacts and a 40% reduction in arrests — at dramatically lower public costs.
The success of these models is supported by a wide and growing body of research:
- Longitudinal studies of homeless individuals under-housed and unhoused conditions find that crime is consistently higher in groups who are homeless relative to groups who are housed, and crime rates fall after obtaining housing.
- A randomized study that looked at providing 8-week summer jobs to Chicago high school students showed it dramatically reduced violent crime arrests by 45 percent. The social benefits were estimated to outweigh program costs by as much as 11 to 1.
- The Brookings Institute studied a Boston summer youth jobs program and found similar results, including significantly fewer arraignments for violent crimes (-35%) and property crimes (-57%) in the 17 months following the intervention.
- Cure Violence treats violence like an infectious disease, modeling its programs off World Health Organization guidelines. Evaluations have demonstrated significant reductions in shootings in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Chicago.
Basic income experiments are also consistently showing promise in reducing violence and promoting public safety:
A Basic Annual Income experiment in Manitoba, Canada was found to have a strong negative effect on both violence and property crime compared to nearby towns with similar populations and demographics.
- A Basic Annual Income experiment in Manitoba, Canada was found to have a strong negative effect on both violence and property crime compared to nearby towns with similar populations and demographics.
- In Stockton, where Michael Tubbs pioneered UBI, financial stability, school attendance, and mental health increased — and recipients secured full-time jobs at more than twice the rate of the control group, who did not receive cash.
But all of this gets pushed aside as people start arguing for big increases in police spending. (And the push will just get more intense over the next few years, as the 2028 Olympics are used as further pretext for spending more on police, and inevitably less on prevention.) These false narratives are about stopping change, frightening the public, and upending our politics by scaring elected officials into skewing right.
I won’t do that. I’m going to keep fighting for the long-overdue change we need.
That’s the only way we will keep everyone safe.