Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, shown before the L.A. City Council… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck on Thursday warned that police officers will be in danger of layoffs unless the city proceeds with a ballot measure to increase its sales tax by a half-cent.
Speaking to The Times' editorial page board, Beck complained that he is already unable to hire 911 emergency operators, custody officers and mechanics. And he warned that the LAPD would probably lose 500 officers without the more than $200 million that would be generated by a sales tax hike.
Beck said 300 would be lost through a hiring freeze and an additional 200 as a result of layoffs. "That's 500 cops. And that is a huge impact," said Beck, appearing with City Council President Herb Wesson, who proposed the tax increase last week.
"I hope that that isn't what happens," Beck said. "And I don't want to panic my workforce. But I wouldn't be here if I didn't think it was a severe threat on public safety in Los Angeles."
Beck made his pitch two days after California voters approved Proposition 30, which increased the statewide sales tax by one-fourth of a cent to pay for public safety and education. His department is already scheduled to lose nearly 160 civilian employees next year, many of them secretaries and clerk typists, because of city budget cuts.
On Friday, policy analysts are to present an analysis of the proposed half-cent sales tax hike to a committee headed by Wesson. The full council would then decide Tuesday whether to place it on the March 5 ballot, when voters will select a mayor, city attorney and city controller and fill eight council seats.
Wesson and City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana said Los Angeles officials have taken major steps to restructure their budget, removing thousands of workers from the payroll and rolling back pension benefits for newly hired employees. But after the meeting, Richard Close, president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn., said city officials should go further by embracing a plan from former Mayor Richard Riordan to cut retirement costs by moving new employees into a 401(k)-style retirement system.
"The sales tax is already going up as the result of Proposition 30," Close said. "Enough's enough."
Wesson said more than two dozen cities and counties around the state approved their own sales tax hikes Tuesday, including Sacramento, Salinas, Carmel and Culver City. In Los Angeles, a sales tax increase would need a majority plus one to pass.
Wesson's plan is the latest effort by L.A. leaders to secure more money for public safety. Starting in 2006, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the council tripled the trash fee for homeowners and small apartment buildings, saying the proceeds would allow for the hiring of 1,000 additional officers.
In 2008, Villaraigosa won passage of the telephone tax measure Proposition S, saying it would shield the LAPD from deep cuts. The latest proposal, Beck said, is being offered because the danger to public safety is "very real."
"This is not crying wolf, as people have accused the city in other years, other administrations," he said.