On Monday, March 13, 2023, the Public Safety Commission of West Hollywood held a special study session and community listening discussion about the City’s RFP process to select the consultant to review the current contract for law enforcement and feasibility study regarding creating a city’s own West Hollywood Municipal Police force.
However, the Public Safety suggested that the City Council postpone the idea of exploring the need for a separate police department in WeHo. The recommendation was made after a long-standing debate on the subject. During the meeting, the commissioners expressed their concerns about the cost, scope, and purpose of conducting such a study.
City Staff interviewed six different consultants, and Matrix Consulting was named as their preferred choice. Commissioner Jackie Steele questioned the validity of the vetting process. She raised concerns that Matrix was not inclusive enough to represent the LGBTQ+ citizens in the city. Commissioner Steele and some public commenters said The Maroon Society was the better qualified choice. “They have knowledge of the city of West Hollywood, social services, and the safety needs of the specificity of West Hollywood,” said Commissioner Stelle. “They have subject matter expertise, technical proficiency and have been incredible in turning around surveys and community engagement programing for the city in the past…”
Chair Tod Hallman and Commissioner Steel had heated exchanges throughout the meeting around transparency. Essentially Commissioner Steel asked questions about equity that neither Staff, nor Chair Hallman were prepared to answer at the discussion.
Commissioner Tory Berger reminded his colleagues that the push for the study pre-dated the election of new Los Angeles County Sheriff, Robert Luna, who ran his campaign saying he was in favor of reforms. He pointed out that Luna is listening to the community-based meeting him at the recent Dialogue with a Deputy event this past Saturday.
Commissioner Kerri Balbone pointed out the disparity in the consultants’ proposals, which overlapped with other studies still unfinished, creating confusion and frustration for the community on an already divisive issue.
Commissioner Robert Oliver stated that he was skeptical of the plan and its intent, saying he believed that it is unaffordable. He suggested that instead of spending $200,000 on a study that would tell them what they already know, the funds could be used for social services. “I don’t disagree on the merits of the different RPFs that my fellow commissioners put forward, but I think at the end of the day, what a lot of people are saying–and I tend to agree–is that we’re going to pay for a study that’s going to tell us what we essentially already know, which is, for a city that’s less than 1.9 square miles, we can’t afford our own police departmen,” he said. “Beverly Hills spends over $106 million a year [on their police force], more than two-thirds of our entire budget in the City of West Hollywood… we spend 23 million. Our social services budget is about $9 million, so if we were to double our law enforcement budget, where is that money going to come from?”
Vice Chair Balbone made a motion to table the process with a recommendation that the process be re-evaluated and that the re-evaluation include taking into consideration that there is a newly elected sheriff, that there is a new safety community study that is under way, and that the RFP needs to better reflect all of the elements that the community wants to see. The motion also asks that the city consider using the funds for the study to benefit known issues in a city coming out of a pandemic resulting in difficult economic times.
Commissioner Berger seconded the motion. The motion passed unanimously.
Common sense for once.