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LAPD Deserves a Bigger Budget

August 18, 2003|Rick J. Caruso

For the Los Angeles Police Commission, the last two years have been defined by struggle.

Under poor previous leadership, the LAPD had lost its focus, and the city was not being well served. As a result, the commission had to grapple with identifying problems within the department and make the right decisions for positive change.

While I was president of the commission during this time, we reinstated the popular senior lead officers program to help the department reconnect with the community. We also overhauled the internal discipline system so that it would be fair to officers and also protect the public.

The commission hired as chief William J. Bratton -- the most qualified man in the nation, in my opinion. And we revamped the recruiting system to once again fill the Police Academy, putting more officers on the street.

Most recently, the Blue Ribbon Rampart Review Panel was appointed to ensure that policies had been implemented to prevent such incidents as the Rampart scandal from happening again.

There is still much work ahead, including rethinking the budget process for the department.

The Police Commission has no real authority over the budget, even though it is in charge of and responsible for the LAPD. This violates the most basic business principle of accountability.

The City Council should approve an overall budget amount for the department, and, thereafter, the commission and the chief should have line-item authority. For the LAPD to succeed and not be a political animal, the chief must be given the authority to spend the money where it's required -- not where it is politically demanded.

In addition, an increased budget for more officers is critical. The men and women of the Police Department have been asked for too long to do too much with too little. Compared with New York City, we have half as many officers per capita.

The members of our City Council need to get their priorities straight.

For instance, the LAPD's budget requests for additional positions in the counter-terrorism bureau must be fulfilled. We cannot afford to be unprepared against a terrorist attack. And we also must rid the city of gang violence, in part by properly funding systems that capture essential data, that target gang violence and that place significant resources in the areas of Los Angeles where it is needed.

On another front, the way an officer can appeal a disciplinary decision by the chief needs thorough review. Though everyone is entitled to a fair and impartial appeal process, an LAPD officer can take his case to a group of the chief's subordinates -- who sit on rights boards to hear such appeals -- and that group's decision is essentially binding on the chief.

That doesn't make sense. It removes the chief and the commission from any accountability in handling serious misconduct. An upcoming analysis by the LAPD inspector general will examine this process.

Meanwhile, the LAPD has to get out of the substandard structure known as Parker Center. It is the only high-rise in Los Angeles that has no life safety systems, and it does not meet dozens of current building and fire codes. The liability costs of staying in this building are obvious, but the human cost is unconscionable.

Every individual has a right to personal safety -- and to the safety of those they love. It is the obligation of the Police Commission to ensure that Los Angeles residents are given this right through decisions made not for political gain but in the best interest of those we serve -- the people.

Rick J. Caruso was president of the Los Angeles Police Commission from 2001 to 2003 and remains a member.

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