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L.A. City Council OKs LAPD hiring freeze [Updated]

March 23, 2011 |  3:43 pm

Against the wishes of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the City Council on Wednesday voted in favor of a three-month hiring freeze at the Los Angeles Police Department to help ease the city's budget shortfall.

The move would save nearly $4 million over the next two years, city budget officials said, and would reduce the number of sworn officers to about 9,890 by July 1.

That number is lower than Villaraigosa’s campaign pledge to maintain a force of 10,000 cops. It also falls short of the minimum of 9,963 officers that Chief Charlie Beck has said was necessary to avoid compromising public safety.

[Update 8:57 p.m. The council voted to defer until after July 1 the hiring of new officers-- which will affect at least one police academy class of about 50 officers -- but it voted to complete the hiring of the April class of police recruits that is already in progress.]

The freeze was one of several council actions Wednesday to reduce the budget gap for this fiscal year from $46.8 million to about $4.1 million. On the recommendation of City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, the council also voted to sweep into the city's reserve fund about $41 million in unspent money from various city agencies.

The hiring freeze has been a point of contention in City Hall since Santana recomended it last week. Villaraigosa's Deputy Chief of Staff Matt Szabo denounced the proposal as making "no financial or operational sense."

[Update 8:57 p.m. The Mayor opposed the freeze proposed by Santana but does not oppose the Council's decision, Szabo said, in part because it goes forward with the hiring of the April class].

A spokeswoman for the mayor said Villaraigosa did not plan to veto the council’s decision.

Defending the freeze Wednesday, Councilman Tony Cardenas said it was only fair. Until now, the Police Department has been mostly shielded from cuts inflicted on other city departments in recent years, including the Department of Recreation and Parks and the city attorney’s office.

"I think we’ve been very, very light on the Police Department," Cardenas said. "It’s not the Police Department of Los Angeles that gets to decide how many officers they have. It’s the City Council of Los Angeles that gets to decide."

The freeze was backed by the police union, whose president said Tuesday that the city shouldn’t hire officers it can’t afford to pay.

"You’ve got to take care of the people you have here," said Police Protective League President Paul Weber. "They’re talking about hiring police officers and then furloughing them. It doesn’t make any sense. "

The freeze would save the city $725,000 for the fiscal year that ends June 30 and about $3.6 million the next year, Santana said. It was designed in part around a voter-approved reduction in pension benefits to police that goes into effect July 1.


Rain expected to hit L.A. Wednesday afternoon

Crime alerts for Manchester Square, Cheviot Hills and 13 other L.A. neighborhoods

 -- Kate Linthicum at Los Angeles City Hall