Cops, Cuts and Critical Thinking

The City Council Meeting coming up on Monday, April 26, 2021 has been inspiring strategy from all corners. The agenda item on Public Safety has had more publicity than some of the movies contending for Oscars this weekend. In the last month, the “Protect Culver City” crowd has run a virtual road show through every neighborhood in the city with police officers on hand to offer statistics on crime. The “Defund the Police” faction has sent emails and offered talking points, along with a live rally scheduled to take place over the weekend. 

Both groups are asking residents to speak to the council, and the meeting is sure to be long, passionate and opinionated. The challenge is that so many Culver City residents are convinced of the rightness of their perspective, there has been a lack of critical thinking on the matter. 

Critical thinking is, in fact, the only way to move the issue forward.

After the last four years of daily (hourly?) hysteria on social media, we are accustomed to being spun around by rhetoric and persuaded by loud voices. The important ability to sit back and just look at the evidence (without already having a conclusion) is almost a lost art. 

My grandfather was a cop – actually, he was a “copper” which was what they were called because of the metal in their shoes. He walked a beat in Chicago in the 30’s and 40’s. If his children had been male, they probably would have joined the department; but both girls became teachers instead. (Those were the rules for gender in those days.)  One of them became the board chair of the Chicago Teachers Union Pension Fund. She chose where to invest billions of dollars. It was far more important than any position at the precinct, and her own father admitted as much. Deciding what to put money towards is what creates society. 

 As Culver City considers redesigning public safety, people keep talking about “police” and overlooking “budget.” What we are talking about is expense.  

When there is a crime, the police react. That is how the department is currently designed. Being reactive is expensive, and when you can plan ahead and be proactive, that is where you should spend the money. 

On the zoom call offered to residents of Culver City with Keith Jones, Scott Zeidman, Officer Marissa Yabkov and Captain Jason Sims, the statistic was brought out that burglaries are up 82%. Since the original city council discussion last year, we have actually hired more officers rather than downsizing. So how do we account for this huge increase in burglaries while we are so staffed up? (Empty buildings are far easier to break into; the end of the pandemic will likely see an 80% drop in burglaries.) The number of police is not the factor here. 

The fact is that police do not prevent crime. Social policies prevent crime. The task of the police to solve crimes after they occur. Cutting money away from squad cars and investing it in social workers will reduce the need for squad cars. Fewer armed officers will mean more people with training to diffuse dangerous situations. Showing up with a weapon is a formula for creating violence. 

There’s a space between ‘no change’ and ‘total change’ where we can experiment and see how it works. Like the pilot program on drones, getting a few new ideas out of the box and seeing what the effect will be gives us data to work with, and examples to cite. Then we can craft intelligent policy. 

As Andrew Lachmann of the Culver City Finance Advisory Committee noted during the beginning of the conversation last year, when one department is taking up that much of the General Fund, it’s an issue for every other department. 

Don’t listen to the propaganda machine. Don’t listen to social media. Speak to the council, but speak for yourself. Your idea on reimagining public safety might be the best one we hear all night. 

Judith Martin-Straw


The Actors' Gang


  1. Gosh Judith, if only it were that simple. The flaw in your position is that even if Culver City directed police dept. funds to social services, those services would only help Culver City residents. A significant percentage (80% or 90%) of crimes are committed by non-residents. So unless we can keep non-residents out of our city (impossible and not even wanted), we will still have the same rate of crime. What you propose only works on a larger level, County/State/Federal. The only thing keeping us safer is our police dept. One doesn’t cut the budget on any department when there’s an increased need for it. It’s our CCPD that keeps our neighborhoods walkable and bike-able at night. I agree, we have far too many people who need help for their substance abuse and psychological problems, the un-housed, and the criminal justice system is not the place for them. But Culver City’s budget alone cannot address these problems. Until there’s a larger scale solution, we can only react … protect the population as best we can with CCPD. Not ideal, but best we have under the circumstances.

  2. Yes there has to be change, and there has been change in the CCPD. Over the past 20 to 30 years policing has changed. Officers especially in Culver City are more educated and better trained then most departments. In fact the training in California is very vigorous compared to the Midwest and east coast. The problem in much bigger then the CCPD budget. It needs to be handle on the county.state and federal level. Our department and city in nothing like Minnesota or Ohio. Everyone wants to jump on the political band wagon and Defund the Police. If were to cut 50% from the PD and give it to other entities it would not fix anything. It would make it worse for safety and the monies would take at 3 to 5 years to get distributed to other departments ie, homeless, social services. Do we just take a random number and say let’s cut City Hall workers, Street maintenance or sanitation. People think!

  3. Following on Emelie Gerard’s comment, there is a need for police reform both systemically and philosophically.

    Everyone deserves an equitable level of safety. I agree that there is too much yelling and not enough listening and talking. There is a petition on, that lays out the discussion about what changes and reforms the CCPD has already enacted in response to the call for reform. The petition also clearly includes the need for racial equity and social justice and that all of the people killed or injured by the police deserve justice, especially Black people who are affected far too often.

    The petition asks that all City Council members pay attention to what is going on specifically in Culver City as to police conduct, misconduct, community outreach, transparency, expanded training in responding to mental health/ drug-related crises, expanded assistance with the issues of the unhoused population and their impact on Culver City. Cutting the budget will cut the training down to what California requires. How does that encourage our police force to go beyond the requirement and work on real reform?

    How do we train officers not to act based on unacknowledged or intentional bias? How do we ensure that officers train, practice, and adopt de-escalation techniques? How do we refine police use of force so it is rarely used unless absolutely essential? How do we establish a continuing relationship that benefits everyone in interactions between the police and the community? How do we encourage police departments and prosecutors to investigate and hold officers and departments responsible? How do we more effectively meet the needs of those in crisis? These are all large and complex questions that go beyond what our city can effectively address. They must be addressed on a county, regional, state, and national level to have any real lasting effects.

    The question not answered in the studies before the Council is: What is going on in Culver City? Do the statistics showing that 85% of arrests are of non-Culver City residents prove that the police are targeting non-residents, especially Black and Brown people? Why are disproportionately more BIPOC people detained than are represented in our City’s population? Do youth diversion programs work? Do they work when they take place where the detention occurred or do they work better in the neighborhood where the youth lives?

    As President Obama said recently, “For most of our history, policing in the African American community has meant just keeping a lid on things and keeping control and maintaining barriers and boundaries rather than actually serving those communities.”

    The City Council must focus on serving and listening to all of the people in Culver City, not just the ones who speak loudly.

    Send in your emails, ask to speak, tell the City Council what you think of the proposal to re-allocate up to 50% of the CCPD budget to deal with social, racial, and economic inequity. Page 8

  4. Judith – if you want to speak of “critical thinking”, the first step is to admit to your readers that you didn’t speak to Protect Culver City once during our campaign. If you had bothered to do that, you would have found out that we had nothing to do with any CCPD/CCPOA activities since the general election.

  5. It’s always helpful to look at the actual outcomes of policy rather than theory.
    Stating that defunding the police will “reduce the need for squad cars. Fewer armed officers will mean more people with training to diffuse dangerous situations” is facile. The logic is this: Doctors don’t prevent disease. Thus less doctors well reduce the need for more doctors.

    I don’t agree but more importantly, other cities have done this.
    What happened? A sharp uptick not just in breaking into empty buildings but homicides, arson, etc.

    Culver City is a nice place to live. Insuring that our crime rate soars is ruining what so many hold dear about living here. It’s relatively safe.

  6. Culver City has been through high crime periods before. We fought hard to get rid of gangs and crime to get were we are today.

    Let’s not lose momentum because a small number of vocal activists, UCLA professors and outsiders demand to Defund the CCPD and eliminate sworn officer positions. These groups act as if they are unaware of the potential for more crime.

    CCPD officers are well paid, for good reason. Their lives and personal safety are on the line. Sworn officers move toward danger while the rest of us get away. We cannot afford to shrink our sworn staff.

    No rational person would believe that Defunding the CCPD will make crime and racism to go away. We must keep up our current levels of deterrence, rapid response, squad vehicle visibility, community events, training, reform and vigilance.

    We must eliminate laws, and eliminate CCPD policies and procedures that disproportionally affect members of particular races and economic status. The very first step is to avoid questions that focus mainly on symptoms in general while thinking that one thing — Defunding our CCPD — is the solution. This can’t be the solution. The unintended consequences are too great.

    I fully support adopting recommendations to the extent that sworn officer staff is not reduced.

    Don’t Defund our CCPD.

  7. Judith,

    Your CCAN-esque spin on societal problems being fixed by an unarmed civilian social worker is laughable. Many comments before this have hit the nail on the head much more concisely then you did. The fact remains on average 90% of crimes committed in Culver City are committed by drug addicts, convicted felons, gang members, and just plain greedy folks who DO NOT LIVE in CULVER CITY. As was noted earlier, how do you propose social workers employed in Culver City from stopping criminals who reside our city limits? Your one trick pony of blaming all societal problems on a racist police dept is laughable considering the police department is MORE diverse than the city itself. Maybe you should stop getting your talking points from Noah Zatz and go on a ride along, or speak with some CCPD officers who can explain to you (once again) where 90% of their work originates. You might just learn something that may make you a bearable, objective journalist.

  8. Mr. Bassilian, we had a long exchange of emails during the campaign which ended with you deciding that CC Crossroads was just “a blog for the mayor” and this venue was unworthy of your attention. Since I was also accused of being “a blog for the mayor” when Andy Weissman was wearing the title, I let it go. A little critical perspective goes a long way.

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