by VoiceWaves Beat Reporter Patrick Moreno
In the middle of discussing the use of one-time funds to patch-up the budget last week, Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster complained it was “giving him heartburn.”
After a long debate on controversial and drastic cuts that proposed to close down 14 of Long Beach’s 26 parks, the city rearranged its revenue last week when it passed its 2013 budget, restoring the all park programs and nearly a quarter of the police department’s proposed cuts.
In response to public outcry at earlier proposed cuts to the departments gang task-force, the final budget cut just $6.14 million of the Long Beach Police Department’s original proposed cuts of $8.7 million.
Despite the funding from last Tuesday’s meeting, the police department will still face underfunding of overtime, reassignment of half of their gang task-force, and the movement of nearly two dozen public safety officer positions.
The total police budget this year is $200 million, accounting for 67 percent of the city’s general spending, according to Braden Phillips, Long Beach Administrative Bureau Police Chief.
The police are subject to the same reductions as other departments, but this will be the fourth consecutive year that the police have seen budget cuts. Similar to budget cuts happening all over the state, cuts to the police departments budget has caused the deployable police force to be the lowest it’s been since 1994.
“When we were asked to prioritize our spending, the chief and the department decided our top priority was to respond to calls for service, so some of those gang officers will move into patrol divisions to maintain our response times,” Phillips said.
Long Beach was recently named one of the top five worst cities in the nation with the worst gang violence by the CDC– with gang homicides accounting for the majority of homicides among 15 to 24-year-olds, at 69 percent.
While the gang task force may be seeing some changes to its services, some community members argue that investment should be given towards prevention and intervention, not more policing. Some alternatives like Centro CHA’s Summer Night Lights program, has already seen some proven success in numbers, as the numbers in type 1 and 2 crimes like homicide and petty theft have decreased in the neighborhoods where SNL was implemented. The program is currently facing uncertainty in its funding as well, according to sources at the Building Healthy Communities Long Beach initiative.
SNL provides free food, recreation, and education to families at three Long Beach parks during the summer.
As the economy faces uncertain difficult times however, the city will have to be creative in dealing with an increasingly tightening budget. At a press conference earlier in August, Foster alluded to a “new normal” in the way the city provides services to its citizens.
“We need to embrace the new reality and change the way we conduct the public’s business,” Foster said. Foster suggested raising new revenue, as well as looking at alternative means of providing city services.
Some residents voiced their opposition to the cuts.
“As a mother, I wholly reject the ‘new normal,’ because it is not for us, but for our kids,” said Jennifer Gomez, a North Long Beach resident and secretary of the Grant Neighborhood Association. In the video that accompanies this piece, Mrs. Gomez elaborates on her public comment.
Phillips and other police administration will meet this week to discuss details of how the funding will be used. Changes are likely to begin in January.
North Long Beach residents Jennifer Gomez and her husband Leo speak their opinion after Aug. 28′s special budget meeting.