City Council members grill LAPD brass on crime spike, police response

The Los Angeles Police Department must grow the ranks of its 10,000-officer force by 2,500 officers in the coming years to most effectively protect the city and keep crime down, Chief Charlie Beck told City Council members Tuesday.

Beck said the LAPD was understaffed compared with other major cities and was not “as ready as we could be” to fight crime or respond to “unusual events” without additional officers. He admitted that it may not be realistic to think that the city could increase the ranks to 12,500 officers by 2020, as outlined in a strategic plan recently developed for the department, but he said city leaders needed to address the issue.

“We are very good at getting the day-to-day done with the size of the department that we have now,” he said. “Now, we can quibble on the number … but I don’t think that’s as important as recognizing this: That this Police Department needs to be larger and we need to have a plan to grow it.”

The chief’s remarks to the council’s Public Safety Committee came as city lawmakers grilled LAPD brass about the recent rise in crime and how the department planned to drive the numbers down. The conversation steadily shifted into a broader look at the LAPD, including the department’s struggles to hire both civilian workers and sworn officers.

Beck isn’t the first LAPD chief to call for expanding to a 12,500-officer force — the figure was also floated by his predecessor, William J. Bratton. But hiring police officers is an expensive and time-consuming process, and growing a department’s ranks long-term is a process hampered by officers who retire or otherwise leave the force.

Even if the city found enough funding, Beck said, it would be difficult to conduct background checks, hire and train that many officers within five years.

“This problem won’t be solved tomorrow,” he told City Council members. “But if we start working on it, it can be solved.” The price tag for such a staffing increase was not discussed.

Officials with the union representing rank-and-file officers told City Council members that the LAPD needed effective short-term solutions to fighting crime. Hoping for more officers, they said, wasn’t enough.

“We all agree that we need more officers, but we can’t wait,” said Sgt. Jerretta Sandoz, the union’s vice president. “Crime is up now.”

MORE: Get our best stories in your Facebook feed >>

The LAPD continues to grapple with combating the citywide rise in crime, a reversal of years of declining numbers. Violent crime jumped 20.2% in 2015 compared with the year before; property crime increased 10.7%.

Councilman Mitchell Englander called Tuesday’s meeting at the urging of the union, which has recently criticized Beck’s response to the surge in crime. The union has complained that Beck has taken too many officers from patrol duties for civilian work or specialized assignments.

Union officials outlined their own plan to put more officers on patrol, which included hiring of more civilian workers.

Department officials were quick to point out that despite the rise in crime, Los Angeles is still a safer city than it was decades ago. They attributed the surge to a variety of factors: more gang violence, a rising homeless population and Proposition 47, the 2014 law that reduced some drug possession and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.

Council members focused largely on the number of officers working patrol duties and the effectiveness of the expanded Metropolitan Division, a cornerstone of Beck's plan to curb crime. The number of Metro officers doubled last year to focus on suppressing crime in hot spots across the city.

LAPD brass defended the initiative, saying Metro officers were making more felony arrests and finding more illegal guns. But some council members expressed concern that the expansion had taken away too many patrol officers from their districts.

Council members peppered Beck and Assistant Chief Michel Moore with questions about the Metro initiative, asking for a more detailed report on which geographic division the officers were pulled from to join the unit and statistics showing the effect the expanded division has had.

“I'm really interested to find out whether this division is working,” Councilwoman Nury Martinez said.

At the end of the meeting, Englander called for a series of reports focused on putting more officers back on city streets, hiring more civilian workers, reopening shuttered jails and the impact of Proposition 47 and other criminal justice reform efforts.

The 8:30 a.m. hearing ran longer than anticipated, lasting well past the 10 a.m. start time for the full City Council meeting. At one point, Council President Herb Wesson directed officials to “go to Public Safety and get me some members or I will get them myself.”

The Public Safety Committee, however, continued its meeting, leaving the City Council struggling to get a quorum. The council meeting was canceled.

“This is absolutely the most important conversation right now in the city of Los Angeles,” Englander said. “No matter how long it takes.”

Wesson took issue with that. “No single issue is more important than the regularly scheduled business of the City Council,” he said in a statement late Tuesday.

kate.mather@latimes.com

Twitter: @katemather

Times staff writer David Zahniser contributed to this report.
 

Follow @katemather for more LAPD news.

Times staff writer David Zahniser contributed to this report.

ALSO

'Get the baby out of the toilet,' dispatcher tells sandwich makers

Family of Venice homeless man fatally shot by LAPD files wrongful death lawsuits

Grim Sleeper serial killer trial begins, years after slayings terrorized South L.A.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

7:37 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information.

This article was first published at 2:19 p.m.

68°