An independent study commissioned at Mayor Richard Riordan's request reveals a shocking decline in the quality of training for Los Angeles Police Department recruits. The results raise the question of whether the LAPD hiring boom, and the pressures on training that it requires, is jeopardizing public safety here. One chilling example of a safety issue is the repeated failure of 31 new field officers to meet minimum standards in firing their service pistols. Even reading ability and peace officer test scores have declined. Something's wrong, and only demanding leadership at City Hall, strong management at Parker Center and, probably, a lot of public money can fix it.
The mayor prompted the LAPD's warp-speed recruitment with his 1993 election campaign promise to expand the force by 2,855 officers in four years. His goal of having 10,000 cops is commendable (even more are probably needed in a city of this size). Now Riordan and the Police Commission must figure out how--or if--the department can reach that strength by the target date of 1997 without sacrificing quality.
City Councilwoman Laura Chick prophetically asked last year about overcrowding at the Police Academy and insufficient field training for officers. Her concerns were dismissed by critics. Now, the so-called Blue Marble report, a recently completed analysis by private consultants, appears to have vindicated Chick. Councilman Mike Feuer and Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg also expressed concerns at the time. Goldberg warned: "Everybody wants to hurry. .J.J. But you don't want to hurry so much that in the end you say, 'Oh, my God, where did we get these people?' " Exactly.
The mayor will tackle some problems identified in the Blue Marble report when he unveils his budget priorities today. He wants to give the LAPD an additional $57 million to pay for urgent needs such as more training officers at the Police Academy and in the field to keep pace with expansion of the force. That's an important investment. Most of us are only as good as our teachers.
The need for field officers is critical. They are paired with probationary officers and, the 1991 Christopher Commission report pointed out, they teach rookies how the department really works. Veterans, not officers with only a few years of experience, should perform this important job.
Chief Willie L. Williams initially questioned the fast pace of the LAPD expansion though the need for more officers was, and remains, great. Now Williams must determine without delay how to improve the quality of officers through improved training, up and down the line.
The chief can learn from the bad experiences of Washington and other cities that took in more than a few bad apples during their hiring booms. Any police department that chooses quantity over quality runs the risk of putting poorly trained officers on the streets. The consequences can be deadly.