Impressed by a sheaf of arrest statistics and the reaction of constituents, the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday unanimously agreed to apply a law enforcement "Band-Aid" for another three months by spending $4.3 million on overtime for police officers.
The council took the action despite warnings by Mayor Tom Bradley and Chief Administrative Officer Keith Comrie that the expenditure will further strain the city's 1987-88 budget, expected to be the most stringent in years. The city is likely to experience the most drastic cuts in services since the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, Comrie said in an interview.
The council's action means that the equivalent of 190 more officers will be on the streets through the months of April, May and June. Police Chief Daryl F. Gates said the officers on overtime will concentrate on street crime, joining task forces to combat gang activity, drug-dealing and prostitution.
To pay for this, the city will transfer $4.3 million to the police budget from the overtime budgets of other departments. Bradley, facing a likely override, said he would not veto the measure.
Gates, as well as several council members, described the authorization of additional overtime for police officers as a "Band-Aid" approach to law enforcement, rather than a long-term solution. Los Angeles voters in recent years have twice voted down tax increases to hire additional police officers. Voters in South-Central Los Angeles, where some of the officers on overtime will be deployed, will consider in June a controversial measure to form a special assessment district to add 300 officers there permanently.
The overtime authorized Tuesday will extend a program begun earlier this year. Acting on a plan conceived by Councilman Ernani Bernardi, the council in late January authorized $3.7 million to field the equivalent of more than 200 officers during February and March.
In the short term, results have been impressive, Gates told the council.
In February alone, officers working in the overtime program made 4,249 arrests, issued 13,878 citations, seized $11.4 million in narcotics and closed 43 cocaine "rock houses." Compared to February, 1986, burglaries were down 13%, robberies down 2% and fatal traffic accidents down 11.1%. Auto thefts were up 10%, but statewide the increase was 14%, Gates said.
Many residents have reported a greater feeling of security because of a visible decrease in criminal activity, many council members said.
This week, Gates said, the overtime forces are policing 178 narcotics "hot spots."
Responding to concerns of officer burnout, Bernardi said that many would moonlight anyway. In February, he said, 2,722 Police Department officers amassed 44,900 overtime hours in the special program, an average of 16.5 hours a month per officer.
"They would be tickled to death working for the city at the city's pay rather than working for former Chief (Tom) Reddin at his pay," Bernardi said.
Reddin operates a private security firm and has moonlighting Los Angeles officers on his payroll.
Bradley, however, called the council's action shortsighted.
"No one wants less police protection. But it is shortsighted to spend money now. . . . Every cent we pay for police overtime in the next few months will come from next year's bare-bones budget," he said.
Bradley told council members in a letter, "As matters stand at the moment, more than $100 million will have to be trimmed from departmental requests to keep . . . within realistically projected revenue.
"Remember, in the long run," he added, "we can hire or retain three police officers for every two officers we now pay overtime at time-and-a-half."
Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, chairman of the Finance and Revenue Committee, said that while a $100-million shortfall is troubling, "$104 million doesn't bother me more than $100 million does."
Bradley says he is faced with making cuts of $100 million--not counting the police overtime measure--before he submits his proposed 1987-88 budget to the council April 20. The $4.3 million for overtime adds to the shortfall because it was being counted on as an unspent credit for next year.