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Councilman Parks asks city to prepare plan for laying off police and firefighters to close budget shortfall

February 1, 2010 |  7:23 pm

As the Los Angeles City Council weighed its options to address a $208-million budget shortfall, Councilman Bernard C. Parks on Monday ordered the city’s top budget analyst to prepare a plan that could include layoffs of police officers and firefighters.

Last week, the city’s Chief Administrative Officer Miguel Santana outlined plans for the elimination of as many as 1,500 city positions, but none of those cuts were in the Police Department or the offices of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa or City Council members.

Building up the city’s police force by more than 1,000 officers has been one of Villaraigosa’s top priorities and he has enjoyed support from the City Council, though that support has waned as the city’s budget crisis has deepened.

Parks pointed out that the police and fire departments make up as much as 80% of the city’s general fund budget and that without cuts in public safety, other city departments will be carrying the brunt of the city’s budget crisis.

“You may have to use the word layoff and police and fire in the same sentence just to give us an idea of what those cost savings are,” Parks told Santana. “We need to give the council the grimmest picture we have.”

Councilman Greig Smith said that when City Council members agreed to hire police officers in November, they expected that their agreement allowing 2,400 city workers to retire early would cover the cost. Instead, the city is now grappling with a tax revenue shortfall of $186 million.

“I, for one, as chairman of public safety, am never going to lay off firefighters to keep hiring cops,” Smith said.

In his budget report, Santana suggested eliminating 64 firefighter positions, but those firefighters were already expected to move to other vacancies in the field to ease overtime costs.

The suggestion that the Police Department might face reductions brought a swift response from the mayor’s office and the police union.

Matt Szabo, one of the mayor’s top deputies, noted that Villaraigosa’s office has advanced a wide array of options for City Council consideration, including renegotiating salaries and benefits with labor unions, additional early retirements of city workers, consolidation of city departments and seeking private operators for the convention center, golf courses, parking garages and the Los Angeles Zoo.

“Solving this crisis is going to require the city to significantly refocus its resources on core priorities, and cutting the Police Department is not a priority that the mayor shares,” Szabo said.

The head of the city police officers union said reducing the size of the LAPD would be shortsighted, especially since the larger force has helped reduce violent crime in the city to levels not seen for decades.

 “It makes you wonder what they’re thinking,” said Paul Weber, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League. “Keep in mind, we were cut last year by over $130 million. We’ve gotten to the point where we’re not even buying new police cars anymore.”

-- Maeve Reston and Phil Willon reporting from City Hall