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Long Beach could lose 20 police officers in budget cuts

September 7, 2010 |  3:38 pm

At least 15 to 20 police officers who patrol the streets of Long Beach could be laid off if negotiations between the city and the police union continue at a stalemate, city officials said Tuesday.

Payroll cuts to the Police Department are among the most contentious of the $18.5 million in budget reductions the City Council will be ironing out in hearings Tuesday afternoon.

The proposed cuts touch on nearly every department in Los Angeles County’s second-largest city, including libraries, parks, the health agency -- even the municipal band. The budget also calls for reining in administrative costs and contracting out positions like painters, locksmiths, carpenters and crossing guards.

About $11.3 million, the bulk of the deficit, would be slashed by asking city employees in many departments, including police and fire, to forgo scheduled pay raises or face more severe job cuts.

The police union has opposed giving up its scheduled pay raise, and if negotiations do not resolve the impasse by Sept. 15 -- the city deadline for working out a budget plan -- the more severe of two plans would go into effect, eliminating 76 police officer positions through attrition, retirement and layoffs.

The number of sworn officers in the department would drop to 867, which police administrators believe may require 15 to 20 layoffs, said Braden Phillips, the department’s administrative bureau chief.

That would be be a significant reduction from two years ago, when the city funded 1,020 officers, he said.

If the police union were to agree to forfeit pay raises, fewer positions would be eliminated and layoffs would be unnecessary.

Long Beach Police Officers Assn. President Steve James did not immediately return calls or an e-mail.

Mayor Bob Foster said reducing public safety budgets is necessary because cuts would be debilitating if they fell entirely on city services such as parks, libraries and street repair.

"The Police Department is nearly 50% of the budget, so if we have to make reductions, they have to bear their share of it," he said.

City Councilman Gary DeLong said city officials advised him the figure could be higher, with at least 27 officers facing layoffs.

“At this point, it appears that the police union leadership is out of touch with most of their members and the current economy,” DeLong said.

-- Tony Barboza and Richard Winton