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Council's budget committee recommends LAPD hiring freeze

The department currently can replace employees who resign or retire. But with other city workers beginning to receive layoff notices, some council members want to stop hiring police immediately.

April 12, 2010|By David Zahniser

Worried about the city's ability to get through the rest of the fiscal year, a Los Angeles City Council committee recommended Monday that the Los Angeles Police Department immediately stop hiring new officers.

On a 3-1 vote, the Budget and Finance Committee called for a halt to the hiring process, which currently allows the LAPD to replace those who resign or retire. The existing policy is designed to keep the number of sworn officers at 9,963 for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

Councilman Bernard C. Parks said the committee made its decision after learning that the LAPD is on track to have 22 more officers than it expected because of lower than projected attrition rates. Parks said the proposal, which comes up for a full council vote Wednesday, also came in response to warnings from City Controller Wendy Greuel about the dangers of dipping too heavily into the city's reserve to balance the budget.

The budget committee has made recommendations in previous years to halt police hiring, only to have that advice ignored by the full council. But the situation is more dire this year, with a $222-million budget shortfall and 93 workers recently notified that they are being laid off.

"If you keep hiring police officers, you have to lay off other folks," said Parks, a former LAPD chief. "You can't have them both. So if the council majority decides to keep hiring, the issue that's going to confront them is where is the money going to come from?"

In addition to Parks, councilmen Paul Koretz and Jose Huizar voted to halt police hiring. Huizar, however, is still weighing his options, a spokesman said.

"He wants to wait until it gets to [the] council, where he can look at it more intently," Huizar spokesman Rick Coca said. "Obviously, the budget situation we're in is pretty unprecedented."

Parks said an immediate halt to police hiring would prevent the recruitment of 80 officers over the next 2 1/2 months.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has made expansion of the LAPD a top priority, said through a spokeswoman that the department should keep hiring to replace officers who resign or retire.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck expressed concern about the vote, saying that an order to stop hiring would mean the loss of 90 officers by the end of June and an additional 230 over the course of the upcoming fiscal year. Such reductions, along with a cost-saving measure that forces officers to take time off in lieu of overtime payments, "would severely inhibit our ability to continue to reduce crime and keep this city safe," he said.

Beck said he was hopeful the full council would reject the motion. "I'm confident they know the reason we have a safe city now is because we have a well-staffed, effective police force," he said. "And that if we move backward on hiring, it will return us to darker days."

Councilman Bill Rosendahl voted against the motion, saying he still wants more discussion. "I'm all about process, that's all," he said. "I don't necessarily disagree with this conclusion, but I'm not there yet. I think it's appropriate to have the discussion with all the council members.

"This year, all these options are going to be on the table," he added.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

Times staff writer Joel Rubin contributed to this report.

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