Many municipalities are facing budget shortfalls due to the COVID-19 recession, and police leaders are working to avoid budget cuts or minimize their impact. PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler spoke with two police chiefs about their current economic challenges:

-- LAPD Chief Michel Moore, whose union is voting on a tentative agreement that would defer raises in order to avoid layoffs.

-- Pittsburgh Chief Scott Schubert, who has been told that he may need to lay off as many as 200 officers if the city doesn’t receive additional support from the federal government.  


LAPD Chief Michel Moore

Budget cuts began in the city in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in June last year. The mayor joined the City Council and the Board of Police Commissioners to commit to reimagining public safety in Los Angeles by initiating a cut of $151 million from the department’s $1.8-billion budget. That would involve downsizing the number of sworn personnel by about 350 police officers and civilian personnel by about 240.

The initial idea was that the money saved from that would be used for alternative non-law enforcement services to handle the host of activities that have fallen to police. For too long we’ve been asked to do too much with too little. For issues involving homelessness, minor disputes, and matters that really are not criminal, we have become the 9-1-1 for social services. The “reimagining public safety” initiative was meant to signal that this was going to change in Los Angeles, and it was going to change dramatically.

That caused us to look top to bottom at how we would downsize our services and resources to meet that moment. About two months ago, with the impact that the pandemic has had on revenue, the city was facing a $650 million shortfall in revenue. They came back to the LAPD and asked for further cuts, involving the layoff of as many as 355 of our sworn personnel, as well as a layoff of 274 civilians, on top of the more than 500 personnel that had been downsized during the earlier budget cuts. These would have been devastating, taking us down to staffing levels that we haven’t seen in nearly two decades.

At the same time, we saw a significant surge in violence here and across the country. We believe that during the pandemic there has been a breakdown of so many social systems, as well as our levers for violence prevention and intervention. There were increasing demands on policing and our resources, at a time when we were seeing decreasing numbers of personnel.

The city asked all of its labor unions to take wage concessions, which would defer wages and collective bargaining benefits that had been previously agreed to. Our civilian members did so. Our sworn members were locked into a contentious back and forth with the city, because they believe statements had been made demoralizing and vilifying officers. I’m thankful that the board of directors of the Los Angeles Police Protective League recognized that we needed to join in on the collective sacrifice to meet this moment. We can always look back and wish that our elected leaders had not said some of the things they did. But the board decided to take the high road and move forward. Our rank and file are in the midst of voting on the ratification of those concessions. If that happens, we will avoid layoffs of 355 personnel.

These concessions would defer two raises: a 3% raise and an additional 1.5%. They would also extend the contract out an additional 18 months, to give the city some time to deal with the aftermath of this pandemic. There are some safeguards in there, so that if the federal government steps up and provides some relief to cities, it could be reopened.

This city has burned through all its revenues, which were at an all-time high. The rainy-day funds have become 7% of the city’s general budget, and all those have been wiped out. We’re now having to borrow to cover operational expenses. 

I’m hopeful for two things in the next budget year, which starts in July. One, that we’ll maintain what I consider to be the bare-bones staffing levels that were established 9 months ago. Two, that the Biden Administration will provide dedicated funding for public safety at the local level, which would help the city to cover the revenue gap that has been a direct result of this pandemic. That would allow the city to maintain these basic core services and fill the revenue shortfalls.

It’s critical for the federal government to recognize the needs of local government. Just as we’re supporting other industries, we need to support city government. During this pandemic and the related outgrowth of violence, it’s never been more important that public safety be properly funded.


Pittsburgh Chief Scott Schubert

Like all cities across the country, Pittsburgh has seen COVID’s detrimental impact, first in terms of the loss of life and people getting sick. But additionally, the restrictions on the local economy mean that the city is not bringing in the funding that it normally gets. The city has already gone through its reserve funds for 2020. And going into 2021, there are dire concerns that if we don’t get help from the federal government, come July 1st we have to lay off 200 police officers, as well as firefighters, EMS, and other city workers. Police would probably be the biggest cut, and that could be detrimental for the city of Pittsburgh.

We’re praying that we get the help we need from the federal government. There are reports that the federal government may help cities across the country. It looks like we may get up to $328 million for the city of Pittsburgh. If that’s the case, that would be a huge relief for all of us in the city.

We went through this back in 2003, when the city went into financial distress and we had to lay off 102 police officers. That’s the last thing you want to have happen. It’s not fair to the community. It’s not fair to the officers and their families.

Wexler: Is this related to the “defund the police” issue?

Chief Schubert:  I think that most people in our community recognize that we need the police. There are some who want to defund or move the funding to other services, but everybody calls us for everything. We’ve become the catch-all because we are out there 24/7, and we’re the only ones available to respond. No matter what the call is, whether it’s criminal or not, the officers are going to show up and do the best they can in any given situation to help those people. They’re going to continue to do that.

I think there are opportunities for agencies that are about mental health, homelessness, and addiction to provide other resources to help us. That could help us, and help the people. But there has to be an agreement to have resources available 24/7, because these calls don’t only happen in daylight.

Wexler: Are you seeing an increase in crime?

Chief Schubert: 2020 wasn’t bad for us in terms of Part I and Part II crimes, but we’ve seen a significant uptick in violence. Our homicides were up 38%, and our nonfatal shootings were up 21%. And our homicides are up in the first month and a half of this year, compared to 2020 and 2019.

When you don’t have police on the street, there’s the opportunity for people to do more. The vast majority of people are law-abiding citizens who want to live in a safe community, but there are those who want to capitalize on opportunities, victimize people, carry guns, and commit more violence. The work that the officers do, day in and day out, in Pittsburgh and across the country, is incredible. They put their lives on the line to help strangers.

We have 90 communities in the city of Pittsburgh, and I’ve committed to walking a beat in every community and talking to the people, including the most marginalized and the most affluent and everyone in between. The feedback I get from people on the street is that they want us to be there to help them and partner with them and ensure they get the services they need.


The PERF Critical Issues Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting this work.