Mayor Eric Garcetti didn't come out and say it in his State of the City speech Tuesday night, but it sure sounded like 2015 is going to be the Year of Public Safety.
The mayor announced five new or expanded crime prevention and suppression initiatives in his speech. Last year, he announced no new initiatives. This year, crime was at the top of his speech (only behind the announcement of the new trash removal program, the Clean Streets Initiative). Last year, crime and his commitment to maintaining LAPD hiring was mentioned only at the very end of his speech, almost as an afterthought.
The new focus is driven by a steep increase in violent crime. The Los Angeles Police Department recently reported a 27% spike in violent crime and a 12% rise in property crime through March 21 compared to the same period last year. Garcetti and other city officials must be concerned that L.A.'s historic decline in crime has ended.
The drop in crime over 11 straight years to record lows was a major achievement and probably had the greatest impact on the quality of life in Los Angeles as any government effort. No mayor wants to be at the helm when that trend reverses, and no elected official wants be blamed for an increase in violent crime.
The fear of rising crime hung over negotiations earlier this year with the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing police officers. Officers had rejected a one-year, no-raise contract offer last year. The prospect of low morale among officers and labor strife while the LAPD is trying to curb crime was one reason city leaders gave a tentative OK to a three-year contract with 8.2% raises, a 50% increase in the uniform allowance and additional contributions to officers' healthcare.
The fear of rising crime is also likely to impact budget discussions. Last year, some City Council members suggested they wanted to revisit former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's promise to increase the LAPD to 10,000 officers. In the quest to maintain the size of the police force, the city froze civilian hiring and officer overtime. Officers ended up doing administrative work and taking forced time off, leading to fewer cops on the streets. But will council members feel as free to challenge the status quo or Police Chief Charlie Beck's budget requests if crime is one the rise?
And now Garcetti has refocused his agenda on public safety. The initiatives the mayor outlined in his speech include some new efforts and some expansions of existing programs. He wants to double the number of officers assigned to the Metropolitan Division, a unit that specializes in crime suppression; expand the number of domestic violence teams to respond to the spike in domestic violence last year; increase the budget for gang intervention programs by $5.5 million; offer the Summer Night Lights youth programs on Fridays all year round, not just the summer months; and establish a new Community Policing Division to be staffed by 40 officers.
The mayor’s proposals all sound like logical responses to crime trends. He should make public safety a top priority — there is nothing more “back to basics” than keeping Angelenos safe. Left unsaid Tuesday night was what other ambitions might end up on the back burner, what else has to be sacrificed to pay for the Year of Public Safety.
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