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U.S. Offers L.A. Funds to Add Officers

The $18-million federal grant would help hire 240 police. But the budget-strapped city must find $31.8 million in matching funds.

September 05, 2003|Jessica Garrison and Richard Winton | Times Staff Writers

The Los Angeles Police Department has been awarded an $18-million federal grant to hire 240 additional officers over the next three years, officials announced Thursday.

There's one catch: The cash-strapped city must come up with $31.8 million in matching funds between now and 2006.

At a time when the city is grappling with an additional $45 million in state budget cuts, officials said they want to accept the federal grant, but are not sure how to pay for it.

The grant comes several months after a showdown between the City Council and Police Chief William J. Bratton over funding for new officers. Bratton, along with Mayor James K. Hahn, sought funding to hire 320 additional officers. But the council delayed any hiring, citing the city's uncertain fiscal situation.

Officials on Thursday expressed hope that the federal money could help bring more officers onto the force.

"This is good news," said Bratton, whose department now has about 9,200 officers.

In a statement, Hahn called the grant "great news for Los Angeles neighborhoods" and said it would "take us another step closer to our goal of making Los Angeles the safest big city in America."

The mayor's office applied for the grant in June, and the 240 officers that it would fund are only 80 fewer than the 320 additional men and women that Hahn had wanted to hire this year. The City Council rejected that plan after analysts projected a $280-million shortfall if the proposal went ahead.

The U.S. Department of Justice grants, first awarded in 1995, are designed to pay up to 75% of the salary and benefits of new officers over three years, up to a maximum of $75,000.

But because the LAPD pays its officers more "than they might in a smaller city, we end up" having to pay a greater percentage of their salaries, said Deputy Mayor Julie Wong. Across the country in recent years, some communities have turned down the money because they could not come up with the matching funds.

But Los Angeles officials said Thursday that they are determined to find a way. Since becoming chief, Bratton and his top aides have carefully courted support from Washington and the Justice Department to help with gang problems, community policing and homeland security. This year, Los Angeles received a bigger share of the $99.3-million total grant pot than any other city or county.

Officials said the city has at least 60 days to decide whether to accept the money and begin to figure out how to come up with the matching funds.

City Council members expressed support Thursday for the grant.

"I think we will do anything we can," said Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, who chairs the council's Public Safety Committee. "This is almost too good an opportunity to pass up."

Justice Department officials said the funds are designed to help agencies hire officers who can boost community policing efforts and enhance homeland security.

"The Department of Justice is committed to helping state and local law enforcement meet today's new challenges and threats," said Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft in a statement. "Our law enforcement partners on the state and local levels are essential in our efforts to fight crime and prevent terrorism."

In addition to Los Angeles, Southern California cities awarded grants include Newport Beach, $225,000; Moreno Valley, $225,000; and Riverside, $675,000.

The federal program has provided more than $6.9 billion to fund the hiring of more than 118,000 officers since 1995, according to the Justice Department.

The program has also provided training and technical assistance to help local law enforcement agencies enhance community policing.

Bratton and Hahn campaigned for months to add the 320 officers, saying they were a key part of the chief's effort to remake the LAPD.

But the City Council rejected their plan this spring in what was considered a major defeat for both men.

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