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The Price of Peace of Mind?

May 07, 1985

The Los Angeles City Council may soon decide that the city can afford 200 additional police officers, twice the number requested by Mayor Tom Bradley. A council committee has made the higher recommendation, and budget deliberations are expected to start by the end of this week.

Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, chairman of the council's Finance and Revenue Committee, is correct in his assessment that public safety remains the No. 1 issue in Los Angeles. The other committee members, David Cunningham and Joy Picus, also understand the concern. They are willing to squeeze the budget--to forgo the purchase of some equipment, to limit the number of new city employees--in order to find $2.7 million to pay for 200 new officers.

Any new commitment to public safety is welcome, but the city needs at least 1,000 additional officers--not merely 100 or 200. Proposition 1 on the June 4 ballot would do just that by authorizing a modest new property tax.

There is a natural reluctance among voters to impose new taxes on themselves that Bradley and the City Council must work to overcome. They must talk up the need for more police officers throughout the city. They must get out and campaign as hard for public safety as they do for themselves.

What the June 4 campaign comes down to is the answer to the question: What is the price of peace of mind? Is it worth less than $5 a month, about $60 a year? That is what the average homeowner can expect to pay if the new property tax is approved. Is peace of mind worth more to homeowners who have larger houses on larger lots and face a larger tax bill? Is it worth the shared expense that renters and landlords would pay?

New taxes are unpopular even when the money is needed, as in this case, for a popular cause. The property tax is the most sensible way to raise the $56 million needed to pay for the 1,000 new officers. Neither the mayor nor most of the City Council believes that this amount can be found in the budget without devastating other services.

The Los Angeles Police Department is woefully small--6,900--for a massive city, of 3 million and growing, that sprawls for roughly 465 square miles.

Bradley and the council have pushed for more police. They must demonstrate a stronger and more persuasive commitment to public safety. This is no time to remain silent. They have until June 4.

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