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L.A. mayor, council leaders strike deal to keep budget crisis from shrinking LAPD

October 12, 2009 |  5:59 pm

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and two members of the City Council said today they have forged an agreement to keep the number of police officers from shrinking in the middle of a budget crisis.

With officials still trying to eliminate a $405-million shortfall, Council President Eric Garcetti said he “comfortably” has support from at least eight of the council’s 15 members to ensure that the Police Department continues to hire officers to replace those who resign or retire.

Villaraigosa, in turn, said he had no problem with the council’s plan for canceling Police Academy classes next month -- as long as such a move does not result in an overall reduction in the size of the nearly 10,000-officer force.

“There are no fights right now” between the city’s elected officials, said Garcetti, standing with the mayor and Councilman Dennis Zine outside the Los Angeles Police Department’s Topanga station.

The news conference provided a sharp contrast to last week’s debate over police hiring, which involved sharp words between Police Chief William J. Bratton and two council members. By comparison, Villaraigosa clasped hands with Garcetti and Zine today as they voiced support for continued hiring.

Still, at least one council member did not sound ready to join in. “I need to be convinced that this is a good option, because I don’t think it is at this point,” Councilwoman Jan Perry said.

Although a vote is scheduled for Tuesday, a spokeswoman said Garcetti would push for a delay.

For weeks, council members have been weighing a plan to halt the hiring and recruitment of new police officers until January. Villaraigosa and Bratton responded with alarm, warning that such a proposal, if extended through June 30, would shrink the LAPD’s ranks by 300 officers.

Although he agreed not to expand the size of the LAPD this year, Villaraigosa has fought to keep the department from sliding backward, saying that such a move would erode the gains made in fighting crime. The department hopes to maintain 9,963 officers this year and is currently 42 ahead of schedule.

“Crime is at a record low because our police force is at a record high,” he said.

So far, civilian workers at City Hall have experienced larger cuts. Workers with the Engineers and Architects Assn. are being forced to take 26 unpaid days off this year. That group includes nearly 1,000 employees of the LAPD who perform such work as analyzing fingerprint and DNA.

Employees with the Coalition of L.A. City Unions have been asked to forfeit 3.5 hours of pay out of each 80-hour pay period. Such sacrifices, in part, are allowing the city to continue hiring officers, Garcetti said.

Villaraigosa has repeatedly described police hiring as his top priority. To hammer that point home, he was accompanied at today’s event by two deputy chiefs of staff, two deputy mayors and at least three other staffers in his office.

“I could go either way” on police hiring, said Councilman Richard Alarcon. “But because the mayor’s supporting it, I’m going to work with him on it.”

-- David Zahniser at L.A. City Hall