In a final push to meet his goal of reducing violent crime by 20% this year, Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton said Monday he is curtailing training classes through the end of December in order to put an additional 80 to 100 officers on patrol.
The effort comes as the city's crime rate emerges as a main issue in the coming mayoral election. Although serious crime is down significantly -- about 13.5% lower than at this time a year ago -- the decrease is short of the target set by Bratton at the start of the year.
How much the crime rate has been reduced and who is responsible for any progress are expected to be the focus of political debate in the coming months.
Mayor James K. Hahn, who hired Bratton two years ago, plans to use the reduced crime rate as a key element of his reelection campaign, arguing that he has made strides toward his goal of making Los Angeles the "safest big city in America."
Hahn's opponents have questioned how much credit he deserves. In a race already defined by personal enmity, Bratton's announcement was met with sharp criticism by some of the candidates running against Hahn.
"Jim Hahn has said that our officers need more training, not less," said candidate Bob Hertzberg. "So it sounds to me like it's a cynical attempt to play politics with police training to cover up the fact that he's failed to provide enough new officers."
State Sen. Richard Alarcon called the plan "insulting to voters."
"For them to think they can cut down on some training hours ... and pass that off as some kind of improved public safety program, when in fact it's a stopgap measure at best," said Alarcon. "I don't think his numbers add up."
Councilman Bernard C. Parks said Bratton's plan failed to address what he considers a more serious staffing issue: the three-day workweek for police officers.
Parks, who at Hahn's urging was not hired for a second term as police chief, had opposed the so-called 3-12 workweek when he was chief.
"If Jimmy Hahn was truly interested in making our city safer for the public, he would immediately put the police back on the street five days a week," said Parks campaign manager Carol Butler. "Every day that goes by where officers are not working five days a week is a day where people are not as safe as they should be."
At a Monday news conference on LAPD recruiting, Hahn and Bratton both responded to Parks. Hahn called the flexible work schedule a "huge success." The proof, he said, is that since it was introduced, "violent crime is down 18% in the city. Murders are down 21%."
Bratton referred to Parks as "this former chief who managed to lose 1,000 police officers because of his inability to keep people in the ranks." He said Parks has no credibility when it comes to LAPD staffing.
Bratton said he believed it was important for department morale and long-term crime fighting "to strive to meet the 20% goal we set on violent crime."
The 20% reduction is one of what he calls "stretch goals," objectives that seem difficult or impossible but the pursuit of which he believes improves the force.
Bratton said the added patrol officers would come from the LAPD's training department through the elimination of nonessential classes over the next few weeks. He said he asked for the plan months ago, and that next year, he will continue to move officers from administrative duties to street patrol.
"Currently, a lot of officers assigned to administrative assignments work one to two days in the field. Those on administrative assignment next year will work a full month in the field," Bratton said. "If you are a police officer in Los Angeles, you are going to have to have the capacity to go into the field at any given time."
The LAPD has 9,095 officers on duty but is budgeted for 9,241, and it is expected to reach that number through new recruits within the next few months, Bratton said. He has said that without new revenue to increase staffing -- which he believes should be at least 10,500 officers, and ideally 12,500 -- he will continue to put as many officers on the street as possible.
On Monday, Hahn and Bratton asked the City Council to consider placing a tax measure before voters in May to pay for hiring more officers, saying momentum is being slowed because of fiscal constraints.
"We are going in the right direction, but we've got to put more police officers on the street because our officers right now are half the strength of Chicago," said Hahn, citing a city that has 1 million fewer residents than Los Angeles but nearly 5,000 more officers.
Times staff writer Megan Garvey contributed to this report.