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Mayor seeks record number of police officers

Villaraigosa plans to hire enough recruits to surpass 1998 peak of 9,852. He also asks governor for $30 million to fight gang violence.

March 30, 2007|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Calling in reinforcements for his battle against gangs, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa proposed a budget Thursday that would expand the police force to a record level by the end of next year, and he asked the governor to put up an additional $30 million toward the anti-gang effort.

Standing in front of the police recruit training center in Westchester, the mayor said that there are not enough Los Angeles Police Department officers to combat the city's estimated 39,000 gang members.

"Our officers are outnumbered," Villaraigosa said. "We remain the most under-policed big city in the United States of America. And we know that any effort to reduce gang and gun violence will be severely limited without a sufficient number of officers on the streets."

The mayor said the budget he will release next month for the fiscal year beginning July 1 will include money to hire 780 officers, resulting -- after the department's normal annual attrition -- in a net gain of more than 220 officers.

The budget would bring the LAPD to 9,780 officers by June 2008, with the expectation that by year's end, staffing would exceed the historic peak of 9,852 reached in June 1998.

Police Chief William J. Bratton said the unprecedented expansion is possible because a more aggressive recruitment drive that includes bonuses has filled the Police Academy with extra officers funded by an increase in trash fees approved last year.

Bratton said the department expects to end this fiscal year with 80 more recruits than it expected. That is good news for a department that has struggled to fill its ranks in recent years.

The budget proposal represents the second year of a five-year plan to expand the police force by 1,000 officers, something Villaraigosa said is essential if the city is to get control of gang violence that grew by 15.7% last year. Los Angeles -- the nation's second-largest city -- has one of the smallest officer-to-resident ratios of any major city, with one officer for every 436 residents. New York City has one for every 228 residents.

In previous years, Los Angeles has not always been able to pay for more officers or keep them after they were hired. After reaching the 1998 peak, for example, the LAPD's ranks were depleted by an exodus of officers fed up with low morale caused in part by the Rampart Division police corruption scandal and a subsequent federal consent decree that severely restricted police operations. At the same time, budget problems prevented the department from hiring enough officers to counter that attrition.

The force had fewer than 9,000 officers in 2002 when Bratton became chief and at one point dipped to 8,247 sworn officers.

Although the trash fee has provided money for additional officers this year, Villaraigosa and Bratton joined 15 other police chiefs and 12 other mayors Thursday in meeting with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in Sacramento to seek an expansion of the state's role in fighting gangs.

Villaraigosa, sitting next to Schwarzenegger, said he had not discussed his recent request for $30 million from the state for suppression, intervention and prevention programs, though he added: "All of us believe we need state resources."

Schwarzenegger said that such meetings among law enforcement and political leaders are crucial because officials need to work cooperatively.

"What we want to do is really declare war on gang violence -- on gangs all over the state of California -- and we have a good shot at doing a great job," the governor said.

The crackdown on gangs is taking place on several fronts. Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo filed a nuisance abatement lawsuit Thursday that seeks to stop members of the Front Street Crips from using two houses on Filmore Street for criminal activity.

"They used this property in Pacoima to run a supermarket for drug sales," Delgadillo said. The lawsuit seeks to order two men to stay at least 500 feet from the property, to remove fencing that hides the activity and to require that lighting be installed at the properties where police have made 40 arrests in 18 months.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley defended his office's use of state laws to enhance the charges and penalties against gang members. Some defense attorneys have complained that relatively minor offenses, such as graffiti vandalism, are being raised to felonies based on the allegation that the crime was committed to further a gang.

"We will focus on any crime by gang members," Cooley said on KPCC-FM (89.3), noting that gang graffiti "intimidates neighborhoods. It's the equivalent of putting a swastika on a synagogue."

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

Times staff writer Peter Nicholas in Sacramento contributed to this report.

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