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The union for LA police officers wants officers to have fewer responsibilities

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The union representing police officers in Los Angeles wants officers to have fewer responsibilities. Specifically, it has said police should no longer be involved in the response to many non-criminal or non-emergency calls. Now, this would be a major shift in the role that police play in the country's second-largest city. And for more, we're joined now by NPR's Adrian Florido. Hi, Adrian.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

A CHANG: OK, so what is the police officer's union proposing here?

FLORIDO: Well, the Los Angeles Police Protective League has released a list of 28 types of calls for help that it thinks should be handled not by police officers, but instead by unarmed responders from other city agencies. This list includes things like, you know, when someone is having a nonviolent mental health crisis or a report of illegal street vending or a loud house party or clearing a homeless encampment, which is something that police do a lot in Los Angeles. This is Jerretta Sandoz, a vice president of the police officers union, at a press conference yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JERRETTA SANDOZ: We believe ceasing to respond to certain non-emergency calls will allow Los Angeles police officers to be able to protect the community in a more safer manner.

FLORIDO: Specifically, the union said, Ailsa, that this change would free police up to focus on more serious and violent crimes.

A CHANG: And why exactly are they proposing this now? Like, what is the context here?

FLORIDO: Well, the context is that the police union is in negotiations with the city over its next labor contract. And the union says that police are overworked and understaffed. The LAPD has historically had more than 10,000 sworn officers but currently has closer to 9,000. So this is a bargaining position.

A CHANG: And how are leaders in LA responding to this proposal so far?

FLORIDO: Well, it's a mixed bag. There are members of the city council who think this is a good thing, that it's in line with what they and many activists want, which is to take armed police out of many routine interactions that sometimes lead to fatal use of force. This is Councilman Tim McOsker.

TIM MCOSKER: It signifies an offer to do their part to participate in a reallocation of how we create public safety.

FLORIDO: Other leaders in this city, though, were not impressed. A spokesman for Mayor Karen Bass sent me a statement saying that on the whole, the police unions proposal would compromise public safety noted that the mayor is finalizing her own public safety strategy.

A CHANG: Wait. Wait. Did the mayor's office explain why she thinks something like this would hurt public safety?

FLORIDO: That was the extent of the statement. It didn't go any deeper than that. But, you know, the city, Ailsa, does not currently have an army of unarmed emergency responders.

A CHANG: Right.

FLORIDO: Fernando Guerra, who runs the Center for the Study of LA at Loyola Marymount University, told me there's no way the city could do something like this in the short term because of how long it would take to identify, hire and train those people. And the Police Protective League knows that.

FERNANDO GUERRA: The PPLA is bringing this up, in a sense, knowing that there's no way the city can say yes because they're not prepared. And now PPLA's going to look great. They said, hey; we proposed this, and they've said no.

FLORIDO: So this all speaks to how complex and also politicized the search for public safety solutions is in Los Angeles. In any case, members of the city council say that any such change would have to be approved by the city council.

A CHANG: That is NPR's Adrian Florido. Thank you so much, Adrian.

FLORIDO: Thanks, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.