The Los Angeles City Council has come under ramped-up scrutiny following ongoing protests for racial justice. Protesters are calling on city leaders to defund the police and reinvest that money into community services. Residents are also calling out their city councilmembers’ relationships with the police union.
David Ryu is the incumbent for District 4, which includes Central LA, the San Fernando Valley, and Santa Monica Mountains. His challenger is political newcomer Nithya Raman, who received 41% of the vote in March’s primary to Ryu’s 44%.
Both candidates spoke with KCRW host Larry Perel about the role of police in the city. The interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Larry Perel: The City Council recently voted to cut $150 million from the LAPD’s operating budget, and Councilman Curren Price said it was a direct result of the People’s Budget movement. Do you agree with the cuts, and do they go far enough?
Nithya Raman: “I think there hasn't been a real conversation around how much of the budget is taken up by the police in a very, very long time in Los Angeles, I think ever … I think this is a big first step. I think we haven't seen cuts like these before, and I think these are testament to how powerful this movement is.
But I think as these other motions wind their way through the council, I'm thinking of Councilmember [Herb] Wesson and Councilmember [Nury] Martinez’s motion to remove police from non-violent calls for service. I'm thinking of Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Councilmember [Mike] Bonin’s motion that's looking at removing police from responses to traffic incidents. … I think the impacts of that will be actually larger than these current cuts will be. And so I'm excited to see what happens as we move forward.”
David Ryu: “I totally agree with the cuts. I mean I have been … serving underprivileged communities and underserved communities for over two decades. And this is what we're talking about — looking at not just the police budget or homelessness, but all the various social ills. [It] is a holistic problem that we need to go towards.
... It's in the right direction, but it doesn't go far enough. What we really need to do is use this impetus to reimagine what public safety will look like in Los Angeles, which is why I co-authored legislation to establish the Office of Violence Prevention.
… Armed officers should not be responding to mental calls, should not have to respond to pretty much 80-90% of 911 calls. So in order for us to fully transform and make deeper cuts, we first need to make sure we have this Office of Violence prevention set up and ready, so that we can transition these very much needed services properly.”
Of the 15 current members of the Los Angeles City Council, at least 11 have received campaign support from the Los Angeles Protective League, the union representing the LAPD. Do you think accepting those kinds of donations are ethical?
Nithya Raman: “I look at a recent measure, which was put on the ballot in 2017, which was measure C, which I believe every council member voted yes to and put it on the ballot. This was a ballot measure that the ACLU opposed, the LA Times opposed. This was essentially a ballot measure to change the way in which police officers are held accountable.
It gave police officers an option of having an all-civilian review board or utilizing the current police department's method, which is going in front of a Board of Rights, which includes officers across the country where civilians have been involved in police accountability.
Civil rights groups have found that civilian officials tend to quickly be co-opted, and are more lenient on police officers then people from within the police.
This measure was a measure that was really pushed by the union. It was supported by every member of the Council and by the mayor. And it was put on the ballot and passed in 2017 and is now our law.
I think that this kind of measure ... takes accountability away from the police, which does not work towards better outcomes for social justice and the kinds of things that people are fighting for now. This is what happens when you have police union involvement in the city elections.”
David Ryu: “Based on the current law, they are allowed to do so. And as such, the $800 I received from them, I have returned. … I was directly sent to my office $3,700. I returned [it] out of my own pocket to the ACLU.
[The LA Police Protective League has spent nearly $45,000 in support of Ryu since he took office]
As far as independent expenditure, it's governed by state and federal laws. I really hope that the [LA] Police Protective League does not. I am not taking their endorsement, and I am not asking for them to do anything.”
*An earlier version of this story said "David Ryu has actually received nearly $45,000 from the LA Police Protective League since taking office." It has been updated and corrected.