West Hollywood’s Public Safety Commission is recommending that City Council table the idea of studying whether WeHo needs its own police department, the latest twist in a debate that has spanned decades.
At their meeting Tuesday, the commissioners expressed deep reservations about the cost, scope and purpose of conducting such a study. City Hall had already interviewed six different consultants hoping to take on the project, naming Matrix Consulting as their preferred choice.
Drama arrived early in the meeting, with Commissioner Jackie Steele questioning the validity of the vetting process, which was conducted by City Manager David Wilson and other senior staff members.
“When you have a panel of folks that are largely beholden to the city manager, who I respect in his role, I do think there is a skewed lens,” said Steele, who blasted the lack of LGBTQ representation in the process.
Chairman Tod Hallman clapped back at Steele. “
“I would like to think you weren’t intentionally trying to hijack this meeting” by waiting to address those concerns, Hallman told her. “I just feel it was very disingenuous of you.”
Commissioner Robert Oliver was perhaps the most skeptical of the plan and its intent, which he believes is totally unaffordable, he said.
“I think at the end of the day, what a lot of people are saying, and I tend to agree, is that we’re gonna pay for a study that’s going to tell us what we essentially already know, which is we can’t afford our own police department,” Oliver said. “Can we look at this from a realistic perspective before we spend $200,000 that could go to social services? We do a lot of studies in this city, right? Like, anybody who’s in the study business, I guess they’ve chosen the right industry. We have a lot of studies and this is yet another one. $200,000 — those are real dollars. It’s a lot of housing for 200 people. You know, rent subsidies for 200 people who might be facing eviction.”
Commissioner Kerri Balbone pointed out the disparity in the consultants’ proposals, some of which included a much broader scope of work that overlapped with the still-unfinished Community Safety and Well-Being study and the Center for Police Equity study.
“We’ve got several oars in the water and I don’t know how they’re going to come together,” she said. “And I think that it creates confusion for this community, on an issue that is already divisive enough for all of us.”
Commissioner Tory Berger reminded his colleagues that the push for the study, which was initiated in 2020, pre-dated the election of the new sheriff among other changes in the public safety realm.
“We have Sheriff Luna who just got voted in, and he ran on reforms. He was here (in WeHo) for Dialog with a Deputy, and I got to talk with him. He cares about this community and he is really listening to what we have to say.”
Proceeding with the study would prevent assessing how the city’s other public safety initiatives — Block by Block, the MET team, social services — are doing.
“We haven’t given a lot of those things even a chance to see what effect they’re gonna have and what’s gonna happen,” Berger said. “I suggest we tell City Council to scrap this thing altogether.”
The commission’s recommendation, motioned by Balbone, suggests that the process be re-evaluated until a strategy for weaving in the city’s other studies is conceptualized.
“Until we resolve those items and are very clear about what we want out of the study, how RFP needs to better reflect, we should table this process,” Balbone said, suggesting that City Council “perhaps consider using the funds (meant for the study) on known issues that we already see.”