We are facing a critical juncture in how we address public safety in Los Angeles and across the country. Our crime rates are higher than they have been in a decade, and at the same time, our eyes are being opened to vast injustices faced by our neighbors every day.This pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives, from our jobs, businesses and schools, to our families, communities and relationships. This destabilization has contributed to soaring crime rates, especially violent crimes and homicides. Still, Los Angeles is considering, and moving forward with, drastic public safety cuts.
The problem, though, is that cutting these services without a reduction in demand is a recipe for disaster for our communities.Our public safety, and the policies directed toward it, could become a proverbial hydra if implemented incorrectly. When we cut off one head to fix one problem, more will appear, and the new ones have the potential to be worse than the problem that we set out to fix.There is no doubt systemic improvements can be made in our policing practices, but these changes need to happen in a way that preserves the safety of our communities and protects businesses.You see, public safety outcomes are not divorced from business outcomes. With higher crime rates, more people and businesses will move out of Los Angeles. As property crimes start to increase, insurance rates will skyrocket, pushing already struggling businesses to the brink of closing forever.Further, amid the highest unemployment rates in history, we will be leaving hundreds of sworn officers and civilian employees jobless in 2021. There are no excuses for the senseless elimination of jobs, especially jobs that require millions of dollars of investment in training costs.When it comes to sworn officers, these staffing changes cannot easily be undone. It takes 28 weeks to train one police officer, and after that, the probationary period can span a year or even longer. If Los Angeles chooses to lay off these employees without thinking it through, we could face staffing shortages for years to come, requiring us to pay for our bad policy decisions – with interest.These abrupt public safety budget cuts also have unintended negative impacts on the social ills and movements that they are specifically made to address.When you divest in public safety abruptly, you render them unable to do anything other than respond to calls and emergency situations. It makes a police force that can’t engage with the community, that can’t work to address the root causes of crime, that can’t invest in diversity, and that can’t find alternatives to traditional policing. By divesting, you deepen the fiscal and logistical stresses that cause policing issues in the first place.I welcome to opportunity to research alternatives to traditional policing to keep our communities safe. But defunding departments, especially as these services already face budget cuts due to the pandemic, is not the answer. This strategy will only cause higher crime rates, endanger communities, and worsen outcomes for businesses.We need to make gradual changes, allowing police departments to reinvest in more equitable strategies. Our businesses, our families, and our marginalized communities deserve it.Let us recover from our current crisis without creating another because of bad policy decisions. This pandemic will end, but the policies we make now will decide whether we see high crime rates, struggling businesses and staggering unemployment for years to come.Stuart Waldman is president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, a business advocacy organization based in Van Nuys that represents employers in the San Fernando Valley at the local, state and federal levels of government.