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L.A. councilman considers layoffs for police, firefighters

February 02, 2010|Maeve Reston and Phil Willon

As the Los Angeles City Council weighed options to address a $208-million shortfall, Councilman Bernard C. Parks on Monday ordered the city's top budget analyst to prepare a plan that could include layoffs of police officers and firefighters.

Last week, City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana outlined plans for the elimination of as many as 1,500 city positions, but none of those cuts were from the Police Department or the mayor's and council members' offices.

Building up the city's police force by more than 1,000 officers has been one of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's top priorities and has had the council's backing, but that support has waned as the budget crisis has deepened.

Parks said that the police and fire departments make up as much as 80% of the city's general fund budget, and that without cuts in public safety, other departments will carry the brunt of the city's budget crisis.

"You may have to use the word 'layoff' and 'police' and 'fire' in the same sentence just to give us an idea of what those cost savings are," Parks told Santana. "We need to give the council the grimmest picture we have."

Councilman Greig Smith said that when the council agreed to hire police officers in November, they expected the cost would be covered. Instead the city is now grappling with a tax-revenue shortfall of $186 million.

"I, for one, as chairman of public safety, am never going to lay off firefighters to keep hiring cops," Smith said.

In his budget report, Santana suggested eliminating 64 positions in the Fire Department, but those firefighters were already expected to move to other vacancies in the field to ease overtime costs.

The suggestion of police reductions brought a swift response from the mayor's office and police union.

Matt Szabo, one of the mayor's top deputies, noted that Villaraigosa's office has advanced a wide array of budget options, including renegotiating salaries and benefits with labor unions; additional early retirements of city workers; consolidation of city departments; and seeking private operators for the convention center, golf courses, parking garages and zoo.

"Solving this crisis is going to require the city to significantly refocus its resources on core priorities, and cutting the Police Department is not a priority that the mayor shares," Szabo said.

The head of the city police officers union said reducing the size of the LAPD would be shortsighted, noting that the larger force has helped reduce violent crime in the city to the lowest levels in decades.

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maeve.reston@latimes.com

phil.willon@latimes.com

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