Story by CSULB Enterprise Reporting’s Madalyn Amato. Photo by VoiceWaves Youth Reporter Ceferino Martirez.
Over the past five years, the Long Beach Police Department budget has decreased by less than 10%. Long Beach, a city of almost half a million residents, has one of the largest police budgets in California.
In 2015 the police budget was 50.1%, making it one of the most funded police forces in the state. At the beginning of September, Long Beach adopted its fiscal budget for 2021, awarding the department 44% of the city’s general budget fund.
The seventh largest city in the state, Long Beach shares similar population sizes with Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Fresno, Sacramento and San Diego. Most cities’ police department budgets rest between 15 to 30%.
At 48.83%, San Jose is the only city to have a police budget larger than Long Beach’s, yet their population is nearly two times larger.
James Suazo is one of many people nationwide calling for defunding the police, and he hopes to accomplish that mission in Long Beach. He is the executive director of Long Beach Forward, a nonprofit organization that works to close disparities in Long Beach and aid the city’s underserved populations.
“… The call around defunding the police is around reimagining, envisioning and working towards something different than what we currently have, what people know and we’re familiar with,” Suazo said.
Affordable housing, mental health crisis resources and a more comprehensive response to the coronavirus pandemic are all things Suazo said should be the focus of the city’s budgetary efforts, not further funding of the police.
“We have nearly 44% of our general fund in the city budget going towards the police department, and at the same time we also know that Black, Latinx, and Cambodian individuals are disproportionately impacted by police violence and police killings,” Suazo said.
Suazo said that the city’s solution has, historically, been to invest in police, making them first responders to many issues. A solution that he says is no longer viable. Instead, Suazo thinks money should be invested in housing, health care, and mental health services.
According to a memo published by Long Beach city manager Tom Modica in July, people of color made up nearly 90% of the victims in the 32 police shootings over the past five years.
A report presented to the Long Beach City Council as a part of the Framework for Reconciliation showed that 8.1% of those surveyed experienced racism in the form of police harassment, making it the largest percentage of racism related experiences in the city.
Sheila Bates of Black Lives Matter Long Beach has heavily criticized the city’s large dedication of general funds to the police budget in the past.
“When we say defund the police, we mean defund the police,” Bates said at a Sept. 8 demonstration held at Recreation Park.
She celebrated the passing of Proposition 17 and Measure J on at a demonstration held in front of the Long Beach City Hall.
Measure J will allocate 10% of Los Angeles county’s budget to invest into alternatives other than incarceration.
“In other words, defund the motherfucking police,” Bates said.
Jordan Doering of Democratic Socialists of America Long Beach said that discourse is no longer effective in bartering with the city government over the police budget. Direct action is now the only option.
“We had 10,000 people in the streets to protest, a majority support[ing] and they still didn’t do anything,” Doering said, “What is it going to take?”
Doering does hold his reservations on any headway being possible in the city, however, due to the makeup of the city council.
“… At the end of the day, they are voting on the police budget every year. And I guess my main point is their flowery language doesn’t charm any of us advocates because we know, like, if you say ‘I support Black Lives Matter’ and you fund the police, your first statement is totally fucking pointless,” Doering said. “It’s actually insulting.”
One main obstacle in achieving the goals of advocates, Doering said, is the reach the Long Beach Police Officers Association has into the city council.
According to data from the Long Beach city clerk’s CampaignDocs Search Portal, Mayor Robert Garcia has received upwards of $300,000 from the POA since Dec. 2019. Since 2015, he’s received more than $500,000.
Garcia isn’t the only politician in the city to receive money from the POA. Data reported by FORTHE shows that since 2015, the POA has contributed funds to campaigns of all city council members of who served in 2020, excluding the recently elected Suely Saro.
Before the city council decided on the 2021 budget, the People’s Budget Coalition called for the police department’s budget to be cut by 20%, putting the budget on par with the Sacramento Police Department. However, it was only cut by less than 5%.
Ultimately, Suazo thinks the model of policing in Long Beach is obsolete.
“To be honest, it does not make me feel safe at all,” Suazo said. “It does not make me feel like policing is done in a way that’s centered around the community, but rather around this desire and assumption for control, for social control.”