Officials in one of California’s most affluent jurisdictions are cutting funding for armed law enforcement, proving that “defunding” police is a thing that can actually be done where there’s political will.
But that doesn’t mean it can be done without pushback and opposition.
The city council in West Hollywood, Calif., yesterday approved a budget for its next fiscal year that cuts the amount of funding it sends to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, whose deputies patrol the small-but-rich municipality. The end result is that West Hollywood will have four fewer armed L.A. County deputies on patrol, while increasing the number of unarmed “security ambassadors” on the streets. The vote was first reported by WeHoville.com, a local news outlet.
West Hollywood, which borders Beverly Hills to the northeast, is known for its clubs and restaurants, especially along the Sunset Strip. It’s population of about 35,000 people is 71.3% non-Hispanic whites, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but it has a reputation for leaning liberal in its politics.
That reputation has been put to the test lately as the city had to consider how to proceed with its law enforcement strategy while crime was rising. That left the city council divided over a proposed budget that favored defunding.
Mayor Pro Tem Sepi Shyne’s motion to amend the city’s budget for 2022-23 and 2023-24, proposed by City Manager David Wilson, will ultimately leave West Hollywood with four fewer deputies on patrol.
The budget was narrowly approved in a split vote, with Shyne and Councilmembers Lindsey Horvath and John D’Amico voting in favor, and Mayor Lauren Meister and Councilmember John Erickson voting against it. For months, Meister has vocally opposed reducing the sheriff’s presence on city streets.
“I’m not going to vote for the budget if we cut the sheriff’s (funds),” Meister said. “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.”
Though it only impacts a tiny, unique city, the vote shows how attitudes across the nation are shifting as the police reform movement, which gained momentum in 2020 and 2021, is challenged by fears over rising crime across the nation.