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Plan to Expand LAPD Falling Short of Goals

October 10, 1994|JAMES RAINEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The ambitious plan to expand the size of the Los Angeles Police Department by nearly 40% over five years has fallen behind schedule, with the department growing at only about half the rate that Mayor Richard Riordan and Police Chief Willie L. Williams had projected a year ago.

A larger Police Department has become the central preoccupation of the city's political leadership, but the LAPD has grown by only 192 officers to 7,792, short of the gain of about 388 officers that had been projected by now, a review by The Times has found.

Other goals stated in the city's "Project Safety Los Angeles"--including expanded overtime payments to put more officers on street patrols--have also produced less than half of what was projected.

The shortfalls have led the mayor's office to privately increase pressure on Williams for more progress. Councilwoman Laura Chick has asked the LAPD brass to report later this month on the issue to the council's Public Safety Committee.

"I know we're not on target," Chick said. "I'm concerned with our progress, and I don't believe we can wait until the end of the year (for a status report). We need to know all along how we are doing."

The mayor's office and Police Department officials acknowledge that some interim goals in the plan are lagging, but they say that the final projections can be met by the end of the expansion in July, 1998.

"We agree that the Police Department is behind on some of its goals," said William C. Violante, the mayor's deputy for public safety. "But this is a five-year plan, and we can still be where we want to be at the end of five years."

In the meantime, front-line police supervisors said they are seeing the first positive impacts of the public safety plan. Several watch commanders said they have been able to use increased overtime payments to add patrols. The addition of just one patrol car can make a noticeable difference in police divisions that are sometimes patrolled by as few as six squad cars.

The police buildup had its genesis in the 1993 mayoral race in which Riordan campaigned primarily on a promise to add 3,000 officers to the LAPD in four years.

A year ago, after little more than three months in office, Riordan stood in front of rows of blue-clad officers at the Police Academy to unveil a slightly less ambitious proposal. In that plan, called Project Safety Los Angeles, Riordan said he would find the money to increase the 7,600-member force by 2,855 officers over five years. He said the equivalent of 1,480 more police officers could be put on the streets by moving desk officers into the street and paying cash overtime to reduce the large number of officers who are typically off duty on compensatory time.

To pay for the buildup, Riordan designed--and the City Council approved--a variety of budgeting maneuvers that expanded Police Department funding by about $100 million over 18 months, not counting money for pay raises this year.

But the public safety plan has run into problems, in large part because of its overly optimistic prediction that the flow of officers leaving the LAPD could be quickly stanched.

While the LAPD has lost an average of about 400 officers a year since 1980, the plan projected that the force would lose just 365 officers in fiscal year 1993-94 and only 330 a year after that. In fact, officers are continuing to leave at the rate of about 400 a year, said Cmdr. Dan Watson, head of the department's Personnel Group.

Williams and Riordan had devised a series of steps that they hoped would slow retirements and resignations, but some of those are just getting off the ground.

The lack of a three- or four-day workweek has been cited as one of the main reasons that LAPD officers move to neighboring suburban departments. In January, four of 18 LAPD geographic divisions will begin a yearlong pilot program to put officers on alternative schedules.

And despite this year's 7% pay raise and attendant bonuses, LAPD officers still make less than their counterparts in many other Southern California law enforcement agencies.

"A big part of the issue is compensation," said the LAPD's Watson. "We are no longer highly competitive in the law enforcement field. People can leave here and go to a place where it's nicer to live, that is less expensive and work a lesser workload and do it for the same or more money.

"It's hard to look someone in the eye and say they should stay, under those conditions."

The problem of flight to other police departments has been exacerbated, LAPD officials said, because officers are no longer required to serve at least 20 years to become entitled to at least a portion of their pension benefits.

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