Garcetti's refocus on crime in L.A. shouldn't include budget gimmicks

With violent crime on the rise, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti is right to make public safety a priority

With the city reporting a rise in violent crime for the first time in 11 years, Mayor Eric Garcetti has refocused his agenda to put more emphasis on public safety. In his State of the City speech Tuesday night, the mayor announced five new and expanded initiatives to address the issue, which is a big change given that last year Garcetti unveiled no new efforts to address crime and only mentioned his commitment to continue hiring police officers at the very end of his speech, almost as an afterthought.

Garcetti is right to make public safety a top priority. He's touted his "back to basics agenda," and there is nothing more basic than keeping Angelenos safe. The decade-long drop in crime to record lows has transformed communities around the city that were once plagued by violence, and has vastly improved the lives of countless L.A. residents. But in 2014, violent crime jumped 14% from 2013, and it soared 27% in the first three months of this year compared to same period last year, according to police. There is some question as to whether the increase is the result of more crime or more accurate reporting of violent assaults, but if the long downward trend really is reversing, then Garcetti, the City Council and Chief Charlie Beck need to work quickly to formulate an effective response.

But the mayor also needs to be upfront about how much it will cost to do so, and he needs to avoid budget gimmicks. At the height of the city's budget crisis, Garcetti and other city officials froze civilian hiring and cash overtime, leaving cops to handle administrative tasks and to be sent home on forced time off — while Angelenos were led to believe there were still 10,000 officers on the streets keeping the city safe.

The initiatives announced by the mayor Tuesday include some new efforts and some expansions of existing programs. He wants to move 200 officers to the Metropolitan Division, a unit of specially trained officers that can be deployed to communities experiencing crime surges; expand the number of domestic violence teams to respond to an increase in domestic violence last year; budget an additional $5.5 million to expand gang reduction programs from 17 to 23 communities; and offer Summer Night Lights youth programs on Fridays year-round.

These are strategic moves designed to address the areas where crime appears be increasing. But Garcetti and Beck also need to assess why this is happening. Law enforcement officials have suggested the increases may be caused in part by the passage of Proposition 47, which changed some felonies to misdemeanor crimes, and the policy of criminal justice realignment, which gave counties responsibility for thousands of felons previously under the jurisdiction of the state. The Times has strongly supported those programs. But it's important to keep a close watch on the data to make sure that they are having their intended effects and not creating unforeseen problems.

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