With the notice of the resignation of a trusted member of the Public Safety Commission, I am moved to comment broadly on the notion of “de-funding the sheriff.” Those who found merit in the idea are, in simple terms, “throwing out the baby with the bath water” — an old saw, no doubt, but it states my feeling about the matter.
There is certainly much to consider when we discuss what our various police agencies have become. They do not sit around in their day rooms plotting ways to upset the citizens; they, just like the rest of us, react to conditions and then actions of others.
Let’s start with the real fact that police do not prevent much crime: they react to it.
Unfortunately for us, their reactions sometimes have deadly and lasting effects, going back in time to around 1895 when New York City issued “police special .38 caliber revolvers” to its growing police force. The weapons became part of the uniform and were worn openly on the hip.
The issuing of guns was in response to increasing criminal acts involving guns. Cops could not shoot back. Fifty years later semi-automatic pistols began to replace the revolver. Finally, today, police departments are armed with all the latest military-inspired weapons — again reacting to the conditions they meet on the streets, and other venues.
The police may seem to be grossly overindulging in military hardware — but look at what a person can buy at a gun store these days. This is not a happy situation and the officers’ increasing dependence on firepower over other methods of dealing with a highly emotional situation are not only frightening but often, in the end, very expensive.
West Hollywood contracts with the Los Angeles Sheriff Department. In the early days of cityhood I was asked to be on a board of examiners to select LASD captains to command the city deputies’ contingent. I was never privy to the contract arrangements and have always wondered how the contract was written.
I have had the impression that LASD came to the table with a menu of what they would provide — package A, package B, etc. and the city chose one it could afford. Since my belief is that police are more responders to than preventers of crime, large numbers of deputies are not as important as their quality and ability to make good decisions — in other words, not reliant upon showing their weapons in every case.
Rather than de-funding the police we should be able to have the police we actually need and want. We need sworn officers with the power to arrest over dozens of paid observers.
There is another extremely important element in the law enforcement catalogue and that is us — we, the residents of West Hollywood. We have the responsibility to monitor our environment and to report to the proper authorities and request — sometimes demand — response.
With new supervision in the Public Safety Department, the opportunity to re-energize our WATCH program exists and is sorely needed. And, it costs very little and is a superb community building action. Further, couple that with our moribund CERT program, both of which encourages residents to be more self-reliant and less dependent upon certain municipal resources. For those who want to de-fund the police, I ask — what replaces them? Find the baby before you empty the tub.