West Hollywood’s city council has voted to defund their sheriff’s department despite crime rocketing 137 percent. The proposal, passed by a narrow three to two vote, will see the current force of around 60 sheriff’s deputies reduced by four. Funds saved by reducing the headcount will be used to pay for unarmed ‘security ambassadors’ under a scheme called Block By Block. Despite slashing the policing budget, the council agreed to stump up funds for a Russian arts festival – increasing their contribution by $14,000 to $50,000. Pictured: Police disperse demonstrators protesting over the police killing of Breonna Taylor in 2020.
Lauren Meister (pictured), Democratic mayor of West Hollywood and a member of the council who voted against the plan, called it illogical, noting that the Los Angeles enclave is afflicted by a rising tide of violence. ‘I’m not going to vote for the budget if we cut the sheriff’s (funds),’ Meister said, according to local news site WeHoville.com . ‘First of all, nobody has the gun problem that we have in this country. You can’t expect us to have a public safety team where most of the people aren’t armed in order to defend our citizens.’
West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station polices the City of West Hollywood and the unincorporated communities of Franklin Canyon, Universal City – which includes Universal Theme Park, Studios, and Citywalk – and the Federal Enclave in West Los Angeles. Fellow councilman John M. Erickson, voted with her to oppose the plan. ‘Community safety is our number one concern,’ he told Fox News. ‘When I’ve heard from countless residents about how they want to feel safer, that involves comprehensive planning and something that is not just drawn out over a decision.’ Pictured: A man argues with Sheriffs at the annual West Hollywood Carnaval.
The proposal was passed, three votes to their two. Sepi Shyne (pictured), who proposed the plan, said the sheriffs cost too much – and the Block by Block program represented more ‘bang for the buck.’ ‘What we know now is our residents want foot patrols,’ said Shyne. ‘We need to be fiscally responsible… And we have all talked for two years. Reimagining policing means reallocating funding. You can’t just say it without actually doing it. Period.’
John D’Amico (pictured), another councilor who voted in favor of Shyne’s plan, emphasized that it will see more people patrolling the street, through the Block by Block plan. ‘In my mind, this is an increase of safety services with 60 additional eyes on the street working directly with the residents and the sheriff and code compliance and our social services providers – and two fewer deputies this fall,’ he told Fox News in a statement. The first two deputies will go in the fall. Three more will depart over the year – but the headcount will only go down by four, because an additional deputy will be added to the Entertainment Policing division. Residents are uneasy about the decision, WeHoville.com reported, saying that residents and business owners from all over the city have for the last few months expressed their deep concerns about cutting the sheriff’s budget in the midst of a crime wave, and at a time of general unease.
In February, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) reported that crime in West Hollywood had risen 137 percent compared to the same time last year. February 2022 saw roughly 250 ‘Part One’ crimes reported. There were 105 such incidents reported in February 2021, KTLA reports.
This number also marks the highest monthly total of crimes classified as ‘Part One’ since LASD began recording those statistics. The decision to defund the sheriffs comes only a week after Captain Bill Moulder was sworn in to head the West Hollywood office. On June 16, Moulder told Beverly Press he planned to focus on preventing the most common crimes in the district – property offenses and assaults. ‘Because the things driving our numbers are theft-type crimes, that has and will continue to be our biggest focus,’ he said at the time. ‘Particularly crimes occurring in our nightlife establishments, like pickpocketing, that are occurring inside the establishments and outside on the streets. Street robberies will be a focus as well. Violent crime is always a concern, and we will work to address that.’ Pictured: Scenes from a West Hollywood shooting in 2022.
Moulder said statistics show nearly one-third of street robberies involve people who are unhoused, so he plans to increase outreach work, in collaboration with the city, to address the issue. ‘It’s important to do outreach, and I think we can really make a difference in preventing crime,’ he said. ‘I have had a lot of contact with the community, our city itself and the City Council, and have developed a great working relationship. I plan to continue that work. It’s an honor to serve in this capacity.’ He has not commented on their Monday night vote.
The concept of ‘defunding the police’ became popular in the wake of the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by a white policeman in Minneapolis. Yet in November 2021, voters in the city resoundingly rejected a proposal to reinvent policing. Approximately 56 percent of voters rejected a ballot question that would have removed the Minneapolis Police Department from the city charter and replaced it with a ‘public-health oriented’ Department of Public Safety. Pictured: Security officers who are a part of Block by Block.
Joe Biden and the ACLU have spoken out against defund movements, with Biden insisting there should be more funding for police. ‘The answer is not to defund the police,’ Biden said, on a visit to the NYPD earlier this year. ‘It is to give you the tools and training, the funding to be partners, to be protectors and [the] community needs you. ‘It’s time to fund community policing to protect and serve the community.’ Pictured: The West Hollywood Station Area Map.
Eric Adams (pictured) was elected as mayor of New York City in part because he vowed to push back against defunding the police, and promised reform without financial cuts. Congressman Ritchie Torres, who represents New York, said in February: ‘The defund police movement is dead in New York City — and good riddance. And any elected official who’s advocating for the abolition and/or even the defunding of police is out of touch with reality and should not be taken seriously.’