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POLICING LOS ANGELES

Call for New Hires Creates Stir

Bratton's pitch to grow department to 12,000 officers challenges city leaders to take action, observers say. Goal faces tough obstacles.

November 16, 2002|Megan Garvey and Beth Shuster | Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton, asked again this week to say how big the department should be, finally had an answer: "12,000 minimum."

The new chief's declaration sent mayoral aides scrambling and created a stir at City Hall. Bratton's "minimum" represents a more than 30% increase in the 9,000-member force and is 1,500 more than the highest level authorized by the city.

Such a large jump in sworn officers raised questions: How would they find enough qualified recruits? And how could the city pay for them?

Bratton said Friday that he was not making a demand when he mentioned the 12,000 number to members of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. In fact, he had not discussed any specific numbers with his bosses, Mayor James K. Hahn and Police Commission President Rick Caruso.

But Bratton's move showed moxie, said Bill Wardlaw, one of Hahn's political advisors. The new chief made his pitch to top businesspeople with some influence at City Hall.

"I do think it was a very shrewd thing on his part," Wardlaw said. "He's now focused everybody, challenging them in a positive, not a negative, way."

Bratton, sworn in last month, was chosen by the mayor in large part because he promised he could reduce crime without new hires.

"He has told me he can bring down crime," Hahn said Friday. "He has said it is doable."

Bratton never said he was satisfied with the size of the Los Angeles Police Department, which at one officer per 400 residents has one of the worst ratios among the nation's big cities.

"Clearly the city needs more; it always has needed more," he said Friday, when reporters pushed him to clarify his statements from the day before. "But the reality with the budget situation right now -- we'll go with 9,000."

In the past, the former New York police commissioner has said the time to push for new resources is within the first six months of being hired.

But Bratton reiterated his commitment Friday to "make do" with the force he inherited after presiding over his first LAPD graduation ceremony.

"I'm a team player. This city does not have the money at this particular time," Bratton said. "If we prove what we can do, maybe at some point we'll be able to go back to the voters and say 'Give us more and we'll do more.' "

"But," he said with a shrug, "we have what we have."

Hahn said Friday he will wait to review Bratton's promised top-to-bottom LAPD analysis before approving new hires, which cost the city $100,000 per recruit. Hiring enough new officers to fill a 12,000-strong LAPD would cost an estimated $300 million, city officials said.

The mayor cautioned that cost as well as difficulty recruiting qualified men and women pose obstacles.

"I think the difficult thing right now is we need our revenue picture to improve before we can really talk about that," Hahn said. "And, you still have the issue of recruitment."

The mayor pointed out that the LAPD only recently has been able to fill police academy classes.

Bratton's 12,000 response at first stunned City Hall.

"I was wondering what he was thinking," said City Controller Laura Chick, who previously served as head of the City Council's Public Safety Committee. "But then I realized that he's setting the stage. He's being a truth-teller and sending a message to the decision-makers in the city."

Police Commission President Caruso said that he believed there will be commission support for more officers. At minimum, Caruso said, the City Council should fund enough hires for the 10,500 officers already authorized.

"I think we need to get that done, and it's achievable within 12 months," Caruso said. The ranks of the LAPD could be filled with a combination of new recruits and "bringing back seasoned officers who -- for whatever reason -- in the last couple years left."

Los Angeles City Councilman Nick Pacheco, chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee, said Friday he anticipated hard decisions ahead.

"If Chief Bratton starts delivering on his promises to improve policing, we're going to have to make tough choices between more officers and library hours and other programs," Pacheco said.

Bratton said Friday he meant no offense when he told Chamber of Commerce members: "Shame on Los Angeles" for failing to increase the size of the police force during the late 1990s, when the city enjoyed a budget surplus.

"In some respects, [L.A.] took great pride in the fact that they were doing it with less," Bratton said. "Doing it with less has a lot of ramifications."

Former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan, who was elected largely on a promise to build the LAPD from 7,000 to 10,000 officers, said Friday he backed Bratton.

"My theory is you never look back. You accept what problems you have and you move forward," Riordan said. He credited a strong economy and police scandals with dampening recruiting efforts, keeping him short of his 10,000 goal.

"Being a police officer is a tough life," Riordan said, "and somehow or another Bratton has got to use his popularity to help people understand that."

Riordan said he thought that Bratton was clever for putting out a high but reasonable number for the force early on in his tenure.

"It's something that has to be said. It should be a goal," he said. "And maybe we'll get to 12,000 five years from now."

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