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City Council votes to put off LAPD hiring

A three-month freeze is approved to help ease L.A.'s budget shortfall, but it reduces the number of sworn officers below the minimum the police chief says is necessary.

March 24, 2011|By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday voted to effectively freeze hiring new police officers until after July 1 in an attempt to ease the city's budget shortfall.

The move will affect at least one Police Academy class of about 50 officers and will reduce the total number of sworn officers to about 9,890 by July 1, said Gerald Chaleff, special assistant to Police Chief Charlie Beck.

That number is lower than Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's campaign pledge to maintain a force of 10,000 officers. It also falls short of the minimum of 9,963 officers that Beck has said is necessary to avoid compromising public safety.

The decision was one of several council actions Wednesday to reduce the budget gap for this fiscal year from $46.8 million to about $4.1 million.

On the recommendation of City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, the council voted to sweep into the city's reserve fund about $41 million in unspent funds from a variety of sources, including $2.8 million from the Department of Recreation and Parks' budget and $4 million in parking revenue.

In a budget report released Friday, Santana proposed that no new LAPD officers be hired until July 1, when a voter-approved reduction in pension benefits for newly hired police officers and firefighters goes into effect.

Santana said delaying the hiring could result in $7 million in pension savings over the course of their careers and would save the city more than $700,000 in the fiscal year that ends June 30.

His proposal was denounced by Villaraigosa's deputy chief of staff, Matt Szabo, who said it made "no financial or operational sense."

On Wednesday, the council voted to complete the hiring of the April class of police recruits that is already in progress. But it voted to require that any additional classes this fiscal year be approved by the council and not officially hired until after the new pension plan begins July 1.

Defending the deferral, Councilman Tony Cardenas said it was only fair.

"I think we've been very, very light on the Police Department," Cardenas said. "It's not the Police Department of Los Angeles that gets to decide how many officers they have. It's the City Council of Los Angeles that gets to decide."

The postponement had been backed by the police union, whose president said Tuesday that the city shouldn't hire officers it can't afford to pay.

"You've got to take care of the people you have here," said Police Protective League President Paul Weber. "They're talking about hiring police officers and then furloughing them. It doesn't make any sense."

Santana also shared with the council his recommendations on how to balance the budget for the next fiscal year, when the city will face a projected deficit of about $350 million.

To close the gap, he has called for reductions of 20% or more in funding for graffiti removal, senior centers, school crossing guards, neighborhood councils, cultural programs and the 311 system that fields calls from the public.

kate.linthicum@latimes.com

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