Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

L.A. council refuses to freeze police hiring as city layoff plans proceed

April 14, 2010 |  3:12 pm
The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to reject a plan to freeze hiring in the Los Angeles Police Department over the next three months, even as personnel officials continue preparing to lay off as many as 383 civilian workers July 1.

The council sent the issue to a committee for more study, a move that would allow 90 officers to be hired by June 30 to replace those who plan to retire or resign. That vote came a few hours after Personnel Department officials told the council that they were moving ahead with plans to lay off at least 100 workers apiece in the Library Department and the Department of Recreation and Parks because of the city's budget crisis.

Still, several council members said they did not want to back away from a commitment made last year to keep the LAPD at 9,963 officers.

If “we renege on that 9,963, we’re jeopardizing the people of Los Angeles, and we’re putting a knife in the back of the chief of police,” said Councilman Dennis Zine, who is also a reserve police officer.

Some council members said they were torn by the competing priorities.

“I never thought I would be in a position where we’re choosing between libraries and parks staying open, and a well-staffed Police Department,” said Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who favored the continued hiring of police. “I don’t really like making those choices."

Councilman Bernard C. Parks, a former LAPD chief who heads the Budget and Finance Committee, had argued that the city no longer has enough money to press ahead with its LAPD expansion plans. With the hiring moving ahead, he told his colleagues that he doesn't want to hear them tell distraught public employees that they are trying to save their jobs.

“When these folks show up next week and the week after and say, ‘Don’t lay me off,’ don’t tell them you’re fighting for their jobs,” he said. “Because with every police officer you hire, you have to lay off 1.5 or more civilians [because officers are more highly paid]. So don’t tell them you’re fighting for their jobs and the next day vote to hire police officers.”

The vote had been favored by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has pushed to expand the force by 1,000 officers since he took office in 2005. If he reaches that goal, the department will have 10,181 officers, according to the mayor’s office.

Still, the LAPD has had to absorb other cuts, including the loss of scores of civilian workers and a dramatic reduction in overtime pay. Beck said that last month, those reductions in overtime were equal to having 292 fewer officers available to work.

The council’s budget committee voted Monday for the LAPD hiring freeze. The following day, LAPD brass began telephoning council members to urge them to keep hiring. Police Chief Charlie Beck said he did not order the calls but relied on the command staff to use their best judgment.

“I told the command staff that they needed to make the department’s opinions and positions known to the council,” he said. That message, Beck said, was: “We need to maintain police hiring to maintain public safety in this city.”

-- David Zahniser and Phil Willon at Los Angeles City Hall