LA Police Union: Relieve Officers From Non-Violent Calls

Los Angeles continues to spiral deeper into rampant and surging crime. The Los Angeles Police Protective League, a major police union representing over 9,000 sworn personnel, has submitted a list of 28 non-emergency calls to the Los Angeles City Council that it believes should be diverted to unarmed responders.

The list includes nonviolent homeless and mental health-related calls. It arguably will enable police officers to prioritize dispatched calls and respond more swiftly to critical emergencies and higher-profile crimes.

The union’s list also includes parking infractions, landlord and tenant disputes, animal complaints without injury, public defecation or urination, panhandling, welfare checks, public drinking, and cleanup calls to homeless encampments.

If approved, nonprofit workers and other city agencies would respond to the listed matters rather than trained uniformed officers. The proposal aligns with the city’s recent consideration of alternative means of policing, mainly when dealing with the homeless and mentally ill.

The union has been calling for such a change for years. Its spokesperson, Tom Saggau, said it took several months to assemble the list and it was put together independently of the LAPD. The union believes officers are sent to too many calls better suited for unarmed service providers.

Union director and former LAPD officer Debbie Thomas told reporters, “police officers are not psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health experts, social workers, doctors, nurses, or waste management experts.

The union’s proposal has been backed by the LAPD Chief, Michel Moore, who said alternative policing had already diverted thousands of calls away from what had previously required a police response. However, the LAPD is grappling with understaffing and slow emergency response times.

The department is down by 233 officers as of mid-February, and 600 are expected to leave in 2024, representing a 20 percent increase over 2022. Moore has asked retired officers to consider returning to the force amid the staffing shortage.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass and the LAPD have recently agreed to work together to develop action items that are part of the mayor’s reform plans for the police department. Bass’s plans include a reform increasing the alternative policing programs currently being used by the LAPD and a system for 911 call operators to triage calls requiring an alternative response.

Several cities, including New York City, San Francisco, and Portland, have already implemented or considered deploying unarmed response teams in recent years. For example, Denver claims its alternative police response system showed a 34% reduction in low-level crime, according to a 2022 study published in Science Advances, a peer-reviewed research publisher.