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Baca, Bratton Issue Pleas for More Funds

The sheriff says a sales-tax hike would aid all law enforcement, and the police chief says he'd back a city tax increase to pay for more officers.

October 29, 2003|Jessica Garrison, Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton | Times Staff Writers

The two top cops in Los Angeles County appealed separately Tuesday for better funding for law enforcement, with Sheriff Lee Baca saying he is ready to personally pound the pavement to gather signatures for a sales-tax hike for public safety.

Such an increase is the only option for making streets safer, Baca said. The hike, which would provide $500 million annually, could be split between the sheriff's and local police departments, including the Los Angeles Police Department.

"I am fighting for the safety of the public," Baca told reporters. "We are in a financial straightjacket. Even if Houdini was alive today he could not get out of it."

At City Hall, Police Chief William J. Bratton told Los Angeles City Council members that the LAPD is understaffed and functions like a fire department, with officers rushing to a crisis, and then having "to run off to the next fire." Often, Bratton said, "the fire we have just left flares up again."

"You can only do so much with what you have," the chief said in an interview, saying he could support a tax increase if it would fund more officers.

Earlier this month, Councilmen Eric Garcetti and Alex Padilla proposed a study on placing a tax measure before voters to fund more LAPD officers, a move cautiously supported by many council members. Last spring, the council rejected the mayor's request for an additional 320 police officers, saying the city could not afford it.

"We've got to find money somewhere to pay for police officers," Councilwoman Janice Hahn said.

Hahn added that she would also be willing to join Baca in supermarket parking lots to collect signatures to get a sales tax measure on the ballot.

That may be the only way to put it before voters, because county supervisors, who have the power to put the matter on the ballot, do not seem inclined to do so. In a rare show of unanimity, they last year roundly rejected an earlier plea from Baca for a half-cent sales tax that would take the county tax from 8.25% to 8.75%. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said at the time that the sheriff deserved "a Pulitzer prize" if he could persuade voters to back the plan.

Baca's attempt to resurrect the idea comes against the backdrop of a series of wildcat sickouts by his deputies across the county in recent weeks. Deputies are seeking a 3% pay raise over each of the next three years comparable to one LAPD officers recently received in their new contract.

In the last two years, Baca said, county supervisors have cut his budget requests by $84 million and $82 million, respectively. During that period he has closed three jails.

Bratton said the LAPD also needs more help. "My own sense is where we are is not where we need to be," Bratton said.

"While it's been a good year overall, we are not where I want to be in terms of crime reduction, department efficiencies, organizational structure," he continued.

In an hourlong presentation to council members on the one-year anniversary of his public swearing-in, Bratton said the LAPD, with about 9,300 officers, has far fewer officers per capita than New York, Chicago and Philadelphia. New York City has 128.8 officers per square mile, compared with 19.7 in Los Angeles

Hours after Bratton's presentation, the council's budget committee voted to accept a $20-million federal grant to hire 270 officers. If the full council approves that plan, the city must come up with $60 million in matching funds over the next three years.

Mayor James K. Hahn quickly praised the vote.

Garcetti said he applauded Baca's efforts to get a sales-tax increase on the ballot and said he did not believe it would complicate a potential city tax specifically for the LAPD.

"There's the potential that both of these could spread out the obligation and spread out the commitment," Garcetti said.

"It's further reflective that this is the No. 1 issue in Los Angeles and in California."

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