The Santa Monica City Council fully funded the local police department during a budget decision Tuesday night but officials said they are actively working with local advocates to develop a plan for long-term changes to police funding that acknowledge the national calls to reinvest municipal money into other departments. 

As of Tuesday night, funding for the Santa Monica Police Department is down about three percent over two years but remains stable compared to recent requests for decreases in police spending triggered by efforts to promote racial justice. 

Staff and councilmembers said the city intends to alter the police budget in the near future but didn’t want to make a hasty decision this week before hearing specific proposals from members of minority communities who should have input on any changes. 

City Hall has been in the midst of a budget emergency for several months as the city struggles to contend with massive decreases in revenue caused by the Coronavirus crisis. While some departments lost significant funding resulting in layoffs to librarians, planners, traffic engineers and almost every other position, services were added to the police department with a corresponding increase of about $5 million to their budget.

Up to Tuesday night, the city’s emergency dispatch center was scheduled to become part of the police department. Those employees are currently located under the City Manager’s office and the budget passed Tuesday halted the dispatch move. The decision removed the $5 million increase from the police budget but Interim City Manager Lane Dilg said the decision wasn’t just about costs. 

“I can address that there didn’t appear to be a more significant increase to the police department budget because we had moved the Office of Emergency Management into the police department,” she said. “As I mentioned earlier, we have reversed that move because we do see the proposals are changing the ways in which we dispatch in order to make public safety reforms so more specifically, there are people who are saying you should not be dispatching sworn officers to all calls, we want to review that and take that seriously.”

Even without the organizational shuffle, SMPD’s budget still increased year on year by about half a percent due to increases in healthcare spending and other infrastructure costs. However, funding for the department decreased by about 3.3% over a two year period. 

Cities across the country have started to cut budgets to police agencies as part of the move for social equity sparked by the recent deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police officers. Many residents were opposed to adoption of the budget and demanded additional cuts to police services. City officials said they were legally required to pass a budget by June 30 and Dilg said during the meeting that she did believe “there is work to be done” but that she was unable to present a plan before the budget was due. 

“I was not able, in the amount of time we had, to determine exactly what that looks like and what the best path forward is,” she said. “You can direct a cut tonight and you can direct the shifting of funds, when I tried to do that myself in terms of where we take the money and how we allocate it, I was not persuaded that we would be making the long term systemic reform that we are looking for by taking one vacancy and moving it to one program.”

She said other communities that are engaging in the process are taking a more long-term approach to the redistribution of their funds and she said the city will be working with community members to establish a plan to divest from police services and invest in other areas. 

“I have announced a process for a committee to advise me on that,” she said. “I do think there are proposals out there that merit real consideration, both in terms of how we police and in terms of are we answering with police where police may not be the answer. And so I just want to be clear with you in the community that I very much believe we should and can be part of that conversation.”

Councilwoman Gleam Davis said changes should be made with the input of impacted residents. 

“It doesn’t take a genius to see there’s not a Black person on the city council and I would hate to start reallocating resources without the input of the very community that we’re trying to benefit,” she said. 

Dilg said she is recruiting individuals to provide advice. 

“I am seeking a group of community members to advise me on two sets of proposals,” she said. “One would be looking at proposals for changes to use of force policies within the Santa Monica Police Department and the second would be looking carefully at proposals to divest and invest, or to as it is sometimes called defund the police which I believe a caller earlier stated is not about defunding the police department, it is about taking seriously the question of how we provide public safety. Where do we use sworn officers, where we use unsworn police personnel and where should we actually be investing in something entirely different to provide public safety for all.”

She said she has reached out to Black community leaders who are working on the Black Agenda for Santa Monica to make sure efforts are coordinated and she said it would take 60 – 90 days to come up with long-term proposals. 

Staff said the city can make changes to the budget anytime or at one of their regularly scheduled updates that occur roughly in October and January. 

Council did make some changes to the budget to address racial inequity including a $200,000 allocation from the general fund and $25,000 from discretionary funds for the Black Agenda and earmarking 10 percent of the We Are Santa Monica Fund for the Black Agenda. 

To apply for the Public Safety Reform Advisory Committee that will develop recommendations on police use-of-force policies and allocation of public safety resources, visit https://www.santamonica.gov/blog/public-safety-reform-advisory-committee.