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  • Surprising LA Times editorial

    Keep up the LAPD hiring

    Despite its budget problems, the city must give top priority to maintaining the ranks of the police force.

    Los Angeles' top budget official, Miguel Santana, was walking a fine line this week when he recommended that continued police hiring be delayed until after June 30 so that new officers would be subject to the lower pension tier that voters approved earlier this month. The City Council's line was even finer: Council members voted to hire the April class of officers but agreed to delay further hiring until the new tier takes effect. It was a wise decision that will save money in future years without decreasing the ranks of the Police Department, at least in the long term.

    But now that that's done, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa should stick with his general approach to police hiring: Keep it up. The council and the mayor saved a little money last year by slowing the pace; right now, the LAPD is hiring just enough to replace those who retire or leave for other reasons. Critics of the LAPD would like to go further and begin shrinking the department, which along with fire and other public safety services takes up nearly three-quarters of the city's general fund. After all, they say, the city has laid off workers in other departments and furloughed employees citywide, in the process cutting back the services available to residents. Isn't it time to compel the LAPD to shrink in size and absorb the same cutbacks as other departments?

    Actually, no. Budgeting should be based on what is best for the city's residents, not on some notion of fairness among the departments on City Hall's organizational chart or among employee bargaining units. And though it is not good for residents to weather cuts in recreation programs or street services, it is even worse, especially during a time of economic stress, to prop up good but less-necessary programs by imposing reductions in public safety. Los Angeles is in the midst of a decades-long process of reforming the LAPD, and an integral part of that reform is getting rid of the department's old occupying-force mentality by continuing to increase the ratio of officers to residents.

    There are many reasons that some inside and outside City Hall want to shrink the LAPD's budget by shrinking the ranks of its sworn personnel. In addition to envy from other departments and other labor unions, some bristle at what they see as Villaraigosa's single-minded drive to expand the LAPD by 1,000 officers pursuant to a campaign pledge. Some have a longstanding dislike for police and assert, not without reason, that public safety depends at least as much on other city services, such as libraries, parks, recreation, even planning. Some miss the fact that the LAPD has changed markedly since the Rampart era, with its ranks now better reflecting the demographics of the city and its management now using modernized policing technology and techniques. Some want to stop hiring because they believe that the department as it was led by William J. Bratton and as it is led now by Charlie Beck must be faking its numbers, which show steady and historic reductions in crime. Some see a larger LAPD as a priority belonging to the 1990s or 2000s, and out of date today.

    In fact, the LAPD remains Los Angeles' most important priority, as it has been for decades. We can ill-afford the rates of crime and violence that plagued the city when comparatively few officers patrolled the streets. Nor can we afford the abuse of the public that resulted from an understaffed and overstressed department, steeped in an insular us-versus-them culture, that saw nonwhite residents as hostile and responded to incidents with blunt force. We cannot afford the millions of dollars in payouts that taxpayers made to plaintiffs who were beaten, discriminated against or otherwise victimized by the old-style "thin blue line" LAPD. Los Angeles cannot afford to set aside the repair and reform of the department because some years have passed since Rampart, the Rodney King beating and the dozens of other police incidents that sapped the city's quality of life.

    As for crime figures, one can quibble with whether rates are as low as they were in 1967 or 1957, but crime has dropped markedly, especially in neighborhoods relatively unaffected by gangs. Of course there is still random violence, and of course there is still gang crime, and it must be met by a better-staffed, better-supervised department than the one that patrolled the city 20 or even 10 years ago.

    It is true that laying off less-expensive civilians while staffing administrative and clerical jobs with uniformed police, as has been done in the department, does nothing to put sworn officers on the streets where we need them. But by keeping up hiring, the LAPD has enough officers to respond to emergencies when needed, and enough to send back out on patrol when the economy recovers and civilians can again do the administrative work. And though it is true that public safety requires a city that provides parks, recreation, libraries, arts and other valuable assets, those services are better able to sustain temporary cutbacks, or reassignment to community supporters or other providers, than the Police Department is.

    The city shouldn't shrink the LAPD until that is the only option left. That will happen only if the council refuses to take other actions, such as consolidating and updating its finance and treasury departments, outsourcing the funding and management of the zoo, and a host of other proposals that have been suggested by the city administrative officer but so far left untouched.

    So the LAPD should get whatever it wants, whenever it wants it? Of course not. The department, for all its reform, is still insufficiently open about its operations and could stand some careful scrutiny. And although the proposal to delay (not suspend) most new hiring through June will save only an estimated $700,000 in the current fiscal year, it subjects new hires to a lower pension tier and saves the city millions of dollars in the long run. That makes sense and, despite protests from LAPD managers, will keep staffing levels at the status quo through the end of next year.
    Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. -- Aldous Huxley
    Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. -- Albert Einstein

  • #2
    Saw that in this morning's paper. Every once in a while, they do support LE. Not too frequently, but once in a while!
    Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence!

    [George Washington (1732 - 1799)]

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by SgtCHP View Post
      Saw that in this morning's paper. Every once in a while, they do support LE. Not too frequently, but once in a while!
      So infrequently as to be newsworthy.
      Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. -- Aldous Huxley
      Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. -- Albert Einstein

      Comment

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