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A Choice: Tax or Crime

April 18, 1985

A city that sprawls in all directions like Los Angeles cannot have a cop on every corner. What the city can have is 1,000 additional police officers if two-thirds of its voters approve a modest increase in property taxes on June 4.

Crime is a major issue in many neighborhoods, and a majority of the voters who live in Los Angeles would feel safer with a stronger police presence, according to public-opinion polls. The stronger police presence would cost the average homeowner $60 a year, enough to expand the Los Angeles Police Department to just under 8,000 officers--still not a large force considering the size, 465 square miles, of this city and the population, 3 million.

There are no such things as popular tax increases. What Mayor Tom Bradley and the Los Angeles City Council now must do is keep hammering home the point that there are no such things as popular robberies or burglaries, either, and that voters must decide in June which they like less. The easy part was putting it on the ballot. Now they must finish the job with a persuasive campaign in its behalf.

Competition among neighborhoods for new police officers will complicate their campaign. Residents in the San Fernando Valley, particularly those who would pay more than the average tax because they live in larger homes on larger lots, need reassurance that they will not bear the burden of the new tax while other areas get the majority of the new officers.

Residents of East Los Angeles, South-Central Los Angeles and other denser areas also want a fair share of police officers, and they don't believe that they get it under existing formulas for deciding how many police to assign to various parts of the city.

The first task for the campaign is the completion of a study of the deployment formula by the Los Angeles Police Commission. It must be expedited, because voters are entitled to know well before Election Day what they would get in return for the higher taxes they would pay.

Homeowners also need to know much more precisely than a $60 average how their vote would affect their taxes. Because the City Council has voted to divide the tax between renters and landlords, renters also need to know what to expect.

Finally, the city's politicians must make it clear between now and June that the property tax is the only realistic way to pay for a stronger police force. City Councilman John Ferraro raised false hopes during his unsuccessful run for mayor by claiming that additional police officers could be paid for out of the city's budget. Bradley squeezed from the budget enough to pay for 100 additional officers last October, and perhaps a few more officers could be added to the force that way, but coming up with $56 million to cover the costs of 1,000 new officers would require massive cuts in other areas.

It will not be easy for politicians to swing directly from their April popularity contests into a June contest that urges the lesser of evils--higher taxes or crime. But Los Angeles deserves no less.

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