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LAPD chief expects severe cuts after voters reject tax hike

March 6, 2013 | 12:42 pm

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Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck expressed disappointment Wednesday at voters’ rejection of Proposition A's tax hike proposal and believes it will result in cuts at the LAPD.

Beck said it was too soon to say with any certainty what the loss will mean for police services. Department officials are currently putting together the next fiscal year’s budget and “are working closely with the CAO [City Administrative Office] and the mayor’s office to minimize the impact” the measure’s failure will have on the LAPD.

The chief, however, said he remained convinced that the department will be “severely impacted” and probably “will be faced with a reduction of sworn personnel” -- officers, that is -- unless the city’s projections of a $220-million budget shortfall improve dramatically. With 93% of the Police Department’s proposed $1.3-billion budget allotted to salaries, Beck said it would be impossible for the department to absorb a major hit to its budget without reducing the number of officers.

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Although the department has been shielded from hits to the size of its force through the last several years of city budget holes, Beck said that could not continue. Significant reductions to the size of its civilian staff and the loss of about $80 million that it relied on each year to pay officers for overtime work have left officers' salaries as the only viable place to save money. “I can’t lose any more mechanics or 911 operators,” Beck said. “Our civilians have already been cut to the core. There isn’t anywhere else to cut” other than officers.  

The doomsday scenario that Beck and others put forth when urging voters to support Proposition A –- that a $50-million cut to the LAPD’s budget would mean the loss of roughly 500 officers -- was “a talking point,” Beck said. City budget officials have not given the department any sense of how big of a spending reduction, if any, the department is facing, he said.

Beck, however, stood by the use of the tactic, saying $50 million is actually far less than what the department would stand to lose if it were forced to absorb a share of the city’s projected $220-million shortfall that was in proportion to the relative size of its budget. With the department’s budget representing about 28% of the city’s entire general fund, the LAPD’s equivalent share of a $220 million shortfall would be $154 million.

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Beck said it was unrealistic to expect the LAPD would be spared from budget cuts. “If the city has to lose $220 million out of its budget, it has to come from somewhere,” he said.

The city’s chief budget officer said officials have begun looking at new ways to cut the city’s budget.

“Everything has to be put back on the table, from the size of the police force to the restoration of fire services to the paving of our streets,” said Miguel Santana, who added that he hopes to have budget-cut options for council members to consider before the week is out.

“What the voters have said is … they are expecting us to solve 100% of the problem now, without new revenue,” Santana said.

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Proposition A, which would have raised Los Angeles' sales tax to 9.5%, one of the highest in the state, was opposed by 55% of the voters. In casting their ballots against the measure Tuesday, many voters said they did not trust the city to spend the new money wisely and blasted the measure as poorly conceived.

“The more money they have, the more they’ll waste,” architect Mark Finfer said Tuesday outside of his Brentwood polling place. “They don’t know what they’re doing."

Both the top mayoral candidates, Controller Wendy Greuel and Councilman Eric Garcetti, opposed the new tax. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the city’s labor unions supported it.

[For the Record, March 6, 2013, at 3:15 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported that the LAPD's budget accounts for roughly 70% of the city's entire general fund. The police budget accounts for 28% of the general fund.]


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Photo: A voter casts her ballot at the Encino Self Storage on Ventura Boulevard. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times