The LAPD said it will attempt to keep detectives and officers with unique skills working within their areas of expertise as the department reorganizes in response to current and anticipated budget cuts, though some officials said they worried about a loss of knowledge in handling certain delicate or complex cases.
One such group, the sexual assault unit at the Robbery Homicide Division, will be dissolved under initial reorganization plans, with its dozen detectives and one lieutenant reassigned. The unit was responsible for the investigations into former USC physician George Tyndall, movie producer Harvey Weinstein, and the adult film performer known as Ron Jeremy.
“The sexual assault unit, this is one of the cutbacks that we’re doing within the realignment, those specialized detectives will be moved out to the geographic bureaus,” LAPD Chief Michel Moore told NBC4’s I-Team.
The proposed reorganization, which is still being contemplated, also calls for a number of other specialized groups, such as Air Support, Metropolitan Division, Gangs and Narcotics, and Commercial Crimes, to shrink by dozens of positions, while other groups focused on specific types of investigations may disappear completely, such as the 3-person “Animal Cruelty Task Force.”
Moore said the proposed changes are in response to the City Council’s “defunding” decision to eliminate $150-million from the LAPD’s budget, as well as anticipated future cuts to all City agencies as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. He said the initial reorganization refocuses the Department on handling daily emergencies and calls, and said he could only make the reductions in specialty areas.
“I can’t take those 350 people out of patrol, they would just absolutely decimate our patrol, staffing,” he said. “So we’re looking at our specialized areas. And some of them we’re downsizing and others we’re eliminating, if the work can be done by a general detective or a detective at an area level, or uniform officer at a station.”
Robbery Homicide’s sexual assault unit has been successful investigating complex matters, sometimes involving serial acquaintance rapes, previously unsolved cases with new DNA leads, and stranger abductions, because its detectives typically have had more time to dedicate to each investigation than those assigned to neighborhood police stations.
“I hope it doesn’t have a negative effect,” said Yvette Lozano, chief programs and operations officer with Peace Over Violence, a non-profit in LA that advocates for survivor-victims of sexual and domestic violence.
The specialist detectives at RHD have had additional training and often many years of experience that helps them connect with crime victims and insure they feel safe in interviews and in court, Lozano said.
“My concern is that victims do not get discouraged and know they can still report assaults,” Lozano said. “I wonder if they will get the same response if there’s some serial rapist out there. Will the case be solved as quickly as it was with the dedicated unit at RHD?”
“There must be some mistake,” said Jack Weiss, a former federal prosecutor who served on the LA City Council from 2001 to 2009. “Support for this type of specialization has been universal for decades. It doesn’t make sense.” Weiss advocated for expansion of DNA collection and testing while serving on the City Council.
The number of the most serious types of sexual assaults investigated by the LAPD has dropped in 2020 along with many other categories of crime, most likely as a result of the pandemic’s ‘safer at home’ directives.
Between January 1 and November 4, 2020 the LAPD collected sexual assault evidence in 376 investigations, down from 449 during the same period in 2019. Department data logged 684 rapes or attempted rapes so far in 2020 compared with 875 last year.
The department-wide reductions under consideration may be only the first step. Moore told members of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners last month that at the direction of the Mayor’s office he’s considered what an even larger budget reduction would look like.
“It would be devastating.” Moore told the Commission he was focused on reducing, “less essential functions,” like reducing hours for the front lobbies of police stations open and taking traffic collision reports, but he did not mention cutting specific core police functions, like investigating sexual assaults or murders.
The Chief said the potential budget cuts could force the LAPD to eliminate hundreds more positions in the coming months.
“I don’t have an optic of how we would attempt to operate; the diminishment of services would be devastating,” Moore said.
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