The political battle between Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and the police union escalated this week with union leaders bucking the mayor’s plans to crack down on illicit “party houses” amid the coronavirus.
Garcetti last week authorized the city to shut off water and power at homes where revelers are defying public health orders intended to curb the spread of the virus. Under the mayor’s directive, Los Angeles Police Department officers who respond to a large party at a property can request the utilities be cut within 48 hours. Homes where parties regularly occur are the target, the mayor said.
But the mayor’s announcement drew the quick ire of officials in the Police Protective League, who have clashed with Garcetti in recent months as he has pushed for reforms and cuts to the LAPD as part of a national reckoning over police abuses.
“Mayor Garcetti wants to reimagine policing. He should send his civilian staff to turn off people’s electricity & cut off their water,” the League said in a tweet over the weekend in response to the mayor’s plans. “Let officers deal with the rise in shootings and killings in LA. We need a leader and not a political contortionist,”
Jerretta Sandoz, vice president of the union, reiterated in an interview Monday that police officers should not be involved with helping turn off utility services. “He wants to use police officers when it benefits him politically,” Sandoz said of the mayor.
Garcetti spokesman Alex Comisar declined to comment on Sandoz’s criticisms.
As the number of coronavirus cases have surged over the summer, Garcetti and other elected officials in Southern California have come under increasing pressure to find ways to persuade people to follow unpopular orders such as wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings. The recent jump in infections in the region has only made those orders more important, officials say.
Amid reports of recent large gatherings in Los Angeles, including one last week at which a group of partygoers descended on a mansion on Mulholland Drive and one person was killed in a shooting, Garcetti last week warned that the “consequences of these large parties ripple far beyond just those parties. They ripple throughout our entire community because the virus can quickly and easily spread.”
Police union leaders seized on the mayor’s call for officers to help enforce his strategy for closing down the parties as fodder in their public relations offensive against him. They have accused Garcetti and several City Council members of hypocrisy — of praising officers’ work at recent demonstrations over police brutality in private conversations with union representatives, but then going on television and blaming officers for the city’s social problems.
Officers are also angered over Garcetti’s support for cutting the LAPD’s budget — a trim of about 1.5% after taking into account the mayor’s previously planned increase to the budget.
Sandoz on Monday said that officers have already respond to complaints about party houses by issuing warnings and citations. But when it comes to working with the Department of Water and Power, “that’s not our job,” she said, adding that it could spark tension between officers and residents.
“If we are trying to bridge the gap between community relations and police, then why would go out to a call like this, which would cause more friction?” Sandoz said.
DWP spokeswoman Michelle Figueroa said the utility turns off water and power at the direction of Garcetti’s office and works with the LAPD to respond.
Figueroa said that as of Sunday, the utility has not been asked to shut off water and power at any “party houses.”
Even before the coronavirus, the city struggled to crack down on parties in the Hollywood Hills and other neighborhoods. Critics say that homeowners and property managers rent out the residences to hosts who throw lavish bashes with booze and loud music, drawing hundreds of revelers.