A divided Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday approved the addition of more than 50 employees to boost the Police Department's compliance with a federal consent decree regarding past civil rights violations.
Although several council members objected that the move will take police officers off the street, LAPD officials said they have a critical need to fill dozens of positions approved during last year's budget process but still empty because of a citywide hiring freeze.
The new staff, which the council approved on a 9-4 vote, will work on all aspects of the consent decree, from auditing the LAPD's procedures to conducting internal investigations.
More than half of the new slots will be filled by sworn officers from other parts of the Police Department. The remaining positions will be new hires. Several council members warned that the shift will further stretch the patrol ranks at a time when more than 150 officers have been called to active military duty because of the war against Iraq. Another 450 officers could be called to duty, officials said.
Citing a recent spate of murders in South Los Angeles, Councilman Bernard C. Parks said the LAPD should focus its resources on fighting crime. "I think it's not wise or common sense for us to continue to remove officers from the field," said Parks, a former Los Angeles police chief.
But police officials said the additional personnel are necessary because the LAPD is falling behind in audits and needs more people to keep up with internal affairs investigations.
Without more resources, "we are going to be facing potential legal problems," Assistant Chief George Gascon told the council.
Two years ago, Los Angeles was forced to enter into the decree after the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that the LAPD had for years been engaging in a "pattern or practice" of civil rights violations. Under the agreement, the LAPD must gather racial data on traffic stops and track potential problem officers, among other measures.
The city must be in "substantial" compliance with the decree by June 2004 to have the agreement lifted by 2006.