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Homegrown security

Anti-terrorism officers or Tasers -- L.A. needs both, but with federal funds lagging, it may have to choose.

July 25, 2007

One of the most concrete consequences of a police department with fewer resources than it needs is the set of choices that will be put before the L.A. City Council in coming weeks. Should the council dip into a fund reserved for buying officers Tasers to instead boost the size of a counter-terrorism task force? Does it allow the LAPD to divert its most experienced officers from badly needed street patrols in parts of the San Fernando Valley where gang crime is flourishing to improve its ability to monitor terrorism threats?

A council committee voted Monday to add 44 officers to the terrorism unit, and although the decision was difficult, it was the right one. Los Angeles leaders are discovering that they cannot rely on Washington to provide all the money and support the region needs to prepare for an attack.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security reduced the Los Angeles area's anti-terrorism funding this year by 10%, or $8 million, even though virtually all experts agree that L.A. is high on any would-be attackers' list. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff provided a modicum of encouragement last week when, on visits to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, he presented a new plan for recovery after a terrorism attack. But post-attack support is no substitute for detection, prevention or dealing with an incident as it unfolds. The Los Angeles Police Department -- working with other law enforcement agencies -- offers our best chance to cope with the destructive plans of anti-American plotters.

Murder and other crime constitute their own kind of daily terrorism, and city leaders cannot let up in their commitment to reduce the toll of street violence. Crime continues to drop in Los Angeles, but the gang homicide rate remains high, and police must keep the heat on assailants if the city's attempts at prevention and intervention are to show any results. That's what makes the choice so difficult for council members who want to support the LAPD's anti-terrorism effort. In the end, the Public Safety Committee supported the request for the 44 officers; the other committees that consider the request, and ultimately the full council, should do the same.

But that leaves open the question of why the 44 officers weren't already in the budget that the City Council approved just last month and that took effect less than four weeks ago. Had the positions been included, the LAPD wouldn't have to strip the Taser budget that it so recently listed as a top priority. A little more care in the budget process would pay off not just in more resources, but in more public confidence that every scarce dollar is properly spent.

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