Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is weighing a move that could allow him to inch closer to his goal of adding 1,000 officers to the Los Angeles Police Department by shifting public safety employees from another city department.
When he outlines next year's budget on Tuesday, Villaraigosa plans to ask the City Council to study whether the LAPD should assume command of scores of sworn police and civilian security officers who protect parks, libraries and City Hall offices as employees of the city's General Services Department.
"We believe we can save on duplicative administrative costs by looking to consolidate the city's public safety functions within LAPD," said Matt Szabo, the mayor's deputy chief of staff. "But there are no foregone conclusions."
Councilman Dennis Zine, one of several council members invited to meet with mayoral aides to discuss the plan, said Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck told him the proposal could help meet staffing needs at the new LAPD Metropolitan Detention Center on Los Angeles Street.
Beck is "looking for additional bodies," Zine said. "He's got functions in the Police Department that he wants to use them for, in addition to their other responsibilities."
With the city in the midst of a budget crisis, officials have imposed a hiring freeze and encouraged hundreds of workers to take early retirement. That has thinned the civilian ranks of the LAPD, meaning that some officers must do desk work rather than patrol the streets.
Though the department was authorized to employ 4,000 civilian employees in this year's budget, the union representing LAPD employees said the number of filled positions is expected to drop below 2,900 by the June 30 end of the fiscal year.
Those staffing shortages amount to fewer cops on the street, said Paul M. Weber, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League. Reassigning 100 officers from fieldwork to back-fill vacant civilian jobs was the equivalent of removing about 30 police cars citywide, Weber said.
With the City Council also facing the possibility of several thousand job eliminations to close next year's $485-million budget shortfall, it has become increasingly difficult for the mayor to find enthusiastic backers on the council for his 2005 campaign pledge to build up the LAPD force to 10,181 sworn officers over five years.
Though the City Council agreed to maintain a force of 9,963 officers this year, some members have questioned whether the city can afford to continue hiring next year as officers resign or retire.
Because there are few details available on how the consolidation would work, it is unclear whether the city would save money by transferring the General Services security personnel to the LAPD. Not only can LAPD officers earn higher salaries over time, their retirement benefits are considerably more generous than benefits for the nearly 100 sworn General Services police and 153 full-time civilian security officers.
Salaries for uniformed LAPD officers start at $45,226 and can go up to $84,668 depending on seniority and training, according to city budget analysts. General Services police officers, who are armed with weapons and authorized to make arrests, can earn between $60,134 and $74,729 under their current contract, but they are not eligible for many bonuses available to LAPD officers.
The unarmed General Services security officers, who guard such facilities as libraries, the convention center and the zoo, earn between $39,024 and $48,483.
Zine said it was possible the General Services officers could be moved into LAPD without substantial changes to their duties, salaries or benefits.
But Michael Robertson, president of the Los Angeles General Services Police Officers Assn., said his union would have to sign off on any potential merger. If officers assume LAPD duties, he said, it would be logical "that they would be awarded the same benefits."
Any attempt to fold the General Services security officers into the LAPD could face resistance from the Coalition of L.A. City Unions.
In 2004, the unions supported merging separate security forces operated by the Convention Center, El Pueblo, the library, the Recreation and Parks Department and the zoo into a new Office of Public Safety within the General Services Department.
Victor Gordo, an attorney for the coalition, said, "The function of policing is very different than the function of providing security at city facilities.
"It's a specialized task that should remain in the office of public safety," he said.