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Getting More Police--Somehow

Crime worries Los Angeles residents a lot, whether you measure the worry by opinion polls or casual conversations. But apparently they worry even more about taxes. On Tuesday voters said no, decisively, to a special property tax that would have raised enough money to add 1,000 officers at the rate of 200 a year to the Los Angeles Police Department. A similar tax lost four years ago, too.

In the absence of the new money, the city can make only much smaller additions to the police force. And scraping together enough money each year until the department is expanded from 7,000 to 8,000 officers should remain a high priority for the Los Angeles City Council.

Mayor Tom Bradley and a majority of the council members have taken just such a step for the next fiscal year, allocating $5 million for an additional 100 officers. They prudently rejected adding 200 rookies, because the expense would have required ignoring other responsibilities.

The mayor has also asked the City Council to designate $1.4 million for police overtime, which gives the effect of more officers because police who are paid for their extra hours do not take time off for compensation. The $1.4 million, which originated from the federal sale of property seized in narcotics convictions, would pay for the equivalent of 30 additional officers.

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Councilman Ernani Bernardi has favored spending even more on police overtime because it costs less than the benefits, pensions, training and other expenses required by newly hired officers. He is currently spending $45,000 from his office budget to pay the overtime for an anti-burglarly task force assigned to the Van Nuys section of the San Fernando Valley. Other members of the council should consider paying for special police needs in their districts. Bernardi also says that the LAPD could assign 200 additional squad cars daily by replacing two-officer teams with solo officers.

Los Angeles needs a stronger police presence, but the voters have rejected higher property taxes, twice. The mayor and the City Council must use other methods to put more officers on patrol.


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