LONG BEACH — The city's police force would increase--by as much as one-third, the police chief hopes--if voters agree to pay for more officers via a new tax that city officials may place on the November ballot.
City Council members said this week that they hope to quickly develop the now-sketchy proposal that would let voters decide whether they want a special tax earmarked for police. The deadline to place the issue on the Nov. 8 ballot is Aug. 9.
Tuesday night, the council endorsed the idea and shipped it to one of its committees and to City Manager James Hankla, who was asked to develop various tax alternatives. The options for the tax include charging property owners a new fee based on the square footage of a lot or on the size of the structure on a lot or on its front footage, City Atty. John Calhoun said.
Neither Hankla nor council members gave an estimate of how many officers they would add or how much it would cost.
Police Chief Lawrence Binkley also could not say how much money a new assessment would cost the individual taxpayer or bring in for the city. But Binkley knows how many more officers he wants: about 200. Another 50 employees also would be needed for booking, secretarial and other duties to support the additional officers, he said.
Long Beach has about 650 officers, or about 1.6 officers per 1,000 residents, according to Binkley. That places the city in a low bracket compared to cities of similar or greater size, he continued. Los Angeles, for example, has about two officers per 1,000 residents, he said.
Binkley said in an interview that he plans to recommend that a ratio, such as two officers per 1,000 residents, be established. Then, as the population increases, so will the number of officers, he said.
The additional officers would improve police service and lower crime, Binkley said.
"I think that with the major developments (that are bringing more people to town,) the citizens won't stand for inferior police service," Binkley said. "Whether it's decided now, or next year, you have to increase the size of this organization."
But it should be up to the voters to decide whether they are willing to pay more, Binkley emphasized. And council members agreed.
"I think they (the voters) should have the opportunity to make the decision," Councilman Wallace Edgerton said before the meeting Tuesday. "We shouldn't make it for them, because--frankly--money is tight for everybody."
Councilman Ray Grabinski, who raised the issue, said: "I think everybody will agree we have a need for more officers. . . . I don't want us to get in a situation where tragedy makes us react."
Grabinski originally planned to ask his colleagues to form a citizens committee to analyze the city's police needs. Instead, he opted to move a little more quickly by asking the council to send the idea directly to its own Public Safety Committee, which he chairs. The council agreed.
Councilman Clarence Smith, who said he supports placing the matter on the ballot, asked the city manager to study whether a new tax could also pay for recreational activities and programs that might keep youths away from crime.
"We continue to add police officers and add jails but we don't do enough about prevention," Smith said before the council meeting.
Hankla also suggested that the community be polled first on whether it would like to have a special tax proposal placed on the ballot.
The plan, Grabinski said, is bound to raise questions about whether special taxes are needed to pay for other programs. "Obviously," Grabinski told his colleagues, "this will generate a great deal of controversy and concern about 'what else do we need?' "