Long Beach officials discussed police training and funding on Tuesday, amid recent nationwide protests calling for defunding of police departments following the death of George Floyd.
A few weeks after thousands protested on May 31 in downtown over Floyd’s death and police violence, the city’s Public Safety Committee met Tuesday for the first time since that protest, which later that night turned into rioting and looting. City officials also discussed the police department’s use-of-force statistics, which appear to have decreased over the past five years.
Police and city officials on Tuesday credited additional funding and training for the reduced use of force.
“We absolutely believe that the training and the practices we have put in place contributed to that decline,” Assistant Chief Wally Hebeish said.
Data showed that there were 340 use-of-force incidents in 2019 compared to 513 in 2016, the highest in the past five years. Officer-involved shootings also have dropped over the years, from nine in 2014 to three in 2019, according to police data.
Some examples that police officials gave of de-escalation efforts were an increase in implicit bias training, scenario-based training and the use of body-worn cameras. The diversity of officers, while the majority are still white, has had a slight uptick in Hispanic and Black staff, according to police data.
Councilman Al Austin noted that the police department has decreased the number of officers over the years, following the recession.
Police Chief Robert Luna said that compared to 2009, there are 20% fewer sworn and civilian staff members in the department.
“We never really recovered from that,” Luna said. “I believe that this community deserves and needs to have a professional police department that is partnered with the community, that is well trained, well equipped and diverse to reflect its community.”
“All of those things cost money,” he said.
In the current fiscal year, 44% of Long Beach’s $556 million budget went to the police department.
Those who have advocated for a decrease in police funding say that more resources should be allocated toward other, non-law enforcement agencies for non-emergency calls, such as social work or education.
Because of looming economic difficulties, the Long Beach Police Department’s funding this year will likely be cut regardless, Councilwoman Suzie Price, chair of the Public Safety Committee, said.
“The reality is the police department is going to get less funding this year,” she said. “That’s the reality and I think that’s the reality for many of our departments, because of our financial reality.”
However, Price said that she believes increased transparency and community policing have led to less use of force.
“There are certain things we have invested in, like community policing, it’s not cheap,” Price said. “Talking to people and spending time to understand the concerns that address community trauma and trigger points, things like that, that takes a lot of time. Sometimes it costs more to invest more in those kinds of community policing practices.”