A plan to slash the number of Los Angeles police officers who patrol some Westside neighborhoods has reignited long-standing political tensions over the priority the department gives to nonviolent property crimes in affluent neighborhoods.
The Los Angeles Police Department plans to move 26 officers out of the West Los Angeles Division as part of a citywide reorganization designed to free up officers for police stations opening in the West Valley and Koreatown.
One reason given for the reduction in Westside patrols was that there is so little violent crime there. But residents argue that the far-flung canyons and hillsides of upscale homes need regular patrols to deter home break-ins, robberies and other property crimes.
"It unfairly disadvantages our whole side of town," said Richard G. Cohen, chairman of the Pacific Palisades Community Council. "It's a particular problem for the Palisades, which is geographically remote so response time will be jeopardized."
To Councilman Bill Rosendahl, it is the latest example of how those who pay among the highest taxes and garbage fees in the city are getting shortchanged because their streets aren't teeming with gun violence. He and some residents wonder how the mayor's trash fee hike to pay for an extra 1,000 police officers is being used when the city cannot maintain 241 officers in West L.A., the largest geographic division in the city.
"I'm upset about it. We are the ones who put in the most tax dollars, yet we're getting fewer patrols," said Rosendahl, who will meet with Chief William J. Bratton next week on the issue. "They say they are not singling us out. But to me it is unacceptable. We pay good money for good protection. We are not happy."
LAPD officials said the reductions in the West L.A. station were necessary because the new stations would require 75 officers for each 24-hour period. But Bratton said the decreases in staffing were not limited to the Westside. The shifts were made with help of a computerized formula that considered crime types, response times, distance and 22 others factors at stations across the city.
For decades, the LAPD, in a city with vast geography and hugely different demands, has had to carefully balance the need to patrol the more upscale Westside and Valley neighborhoods against the demands in the decidedly more violent areas on the east and south sides.
Bratton said the shifting staffing levels were designed to put officers where they were needed -- including in some Westside areas that sometimes need extra troops.
"We put significant numbers of officers in Venice Beach each summer," the chief said.
Councilman Jack Weiss, who represents parts of the Westside, backs Bratton's approach, saying: "The best way to protect low-crime areas is put the cops on the dots in high-crime areas. That protects us all."
He noted that when Bel-Air and Brentwood experienced a string of serial robberies last year, the LAPD created a task force to deal with the crime wave.
But that is little comfort to homeowners in Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, Bel-Air and other communities.
Cohen said it took Pacific Palisades residents years of "arguing and fighting" to secure a dedicated patrol car that the police agreed not to pull out except in emergencies. Cohen said the department has pledged to keep the dedicated patrol car.
"Otherwise, it just would be open season," he said.
Shirley Haggstrom, president of the Pacific Palisades Historical Society, is also concerned about having fewer officers around. "I think good police protection prevents us from having violent crime," she said.
Michael Moore, senior lead officer for Pacific Palisades, said residents have a point that response times could rise.
"Realistically, one car is not enough" to cover an area the size of the Pacific Palisades, he said. "Generally speaking for West L.A., there is a tendency to have cars assigned to huge amounts of territory they couldn't possibly hope to cover. . . . You look at it and say, 'Why is it that such a big area is left almost unprotected?' "
If the number of police officers is reduced, senior lead officers such as Moore could be ordered into patrol cars, limiting the amount of time they could spend dealing with a neighborhood's particular issues or speaking at community meetings.
Phillip Enbody, Brentwood's senior lead officer, said the potential loss of officers in the area worried him.
"I like to have 24-hour coverage," Enbody said. "We are a property crime division. When a person comes into an area to break into cars, they break into multiple cars. In one night, I can have 10 to 15 crimes."
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Population served by the LAPD West L.A. Division.
Current number of officers in division.
Number of officers after proposed redeployment.
Source: Los Angeles Police Department