The American Civil Liberties Union, in a report scheduled for release today, has concluded that 83.1% of Los Angeles police officers live outside the city limits, a finding that department critics say bolsters the longstanding characterization of the LAPD as an occupying army whose officers have little connection to the communities they serve.
“For decades, the Los Angeles Police Department has been criticized by mainstream police administrators, LAPD officials, the public and political activists as an army of occupation, comprised mostly of white suburbanites, whose members have little stake in Los Angeles,” the ACLU report states. “It has long been assumed that a majority of LAPD officers do not reside in the city.”
The ACLU of Southern California study is the first to comprehensively examine that assumption. Its conclusions are contained in a 33-page report entitled “From the Outside In,” scheduled for release at a news conference today. The report was compiled using data provided by the Police Department, which last year gave the ACLU a computer printout of the ZIP codes of all 7,658 LAPD officers. Names and street addresses were not included.
The report raises questions about the LAPD’s attempts to develop a more community-oriented style of policing when so many of its officers live outside the city. It makes a number of recommendations for encouraging officers to relocate within Los Angeles.
In addition to concluding that the vast majority of police officers live outside Los Angeles, the ACLU study found that the communities in which large numbers of officers live are predominantly white and suburban. A total of 293 LAPD officers live in Simi Valley, while fewer than 200 live in the area covered by the department’s Central Bureau.
“The racial and ethnic diversity in which officers and their families reside, socialize and go about their personal routines generally bear little resemblance to the city the officers police,” the report states. Although police officers and department officials generally attribute the residential patterns to officers searching for affordable housing, the ACLU report questions that conclusion, noting that a number of Los Angeles neighborhoods have cheaper housing prices than the communities in which many LAPD officers reside.
The ACLU findings are accompanied by a number of recommendations, including proposals for salary incentives, rental subsidies and low- and no-interest mortgage loans to lure officers into living in the city. The report does not call for a residency requirement, which is used by many metropolitan governments across the country but is barred in California by a 1974 amendment to the state Constitution.
Of particular note is a Columbia, S.C., program that gives officers low-interest housing loans if they agree to live in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. That program, which the ACLU recommends that Los Angeles consider emulating, gives police officers affordable places to live and at the same time is intended to strengthen ties between officers and the communities they serve.
Geoffrey Garfield, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, bristled at the suggestion that LAPD officers do not have strong ties to the city they are sworn to protect and serve. But Garfield said the league, which represents rank-and-file police officers, would support incentives to encourage city residence.
“The league is in favor of low-interest loans to help police officers live in the city,” Garfield said. “A lot of officers have asked about these types of programs and would like to be a part of them.”
City Councilwoman Laura Chick, a member of the council’s Public Safety Committee, greeted the findings cautiously, saying that “in the best of all possible worlds, it would be wonderful to have all officers live within the city.”
But budget shortfalls have made funding for the department scarce, and Chick said she did not consider new programs for encouraging residency a high priority compared to other pressing department concerns. “On a list of my top 20 items, this is way down for me,” she said.
By contrast, Stephen Yagman, a lawyer and vocal critic of the LAPD, said officers should be required to live in the city. “The ACLU statistics support the opinion that I’ve long held, that the LAPD is an occupying force,” Yagman said. “They are significantly alienated from the city, and the services they provide are not consumer friendly.”
In its report, the ACLU compares Los Angeles to other major cities and concludes that many other governments have far higher percentages of police officers living within the city limits. In New York, officers are required either to live inside the city or in one of the six surrounding counties. Fifty-nine percent of all New York police officers live in New York City.
The majority of officers in the LAPD upper ranks also live outside Los Angeles, according to the ACLU. Although Police Chief Willie L. Williams lives in the city, six of the nine officers whose rank is deputy chief or higher live outside Los Angeles. Three of the LAPD’s 12 commanders live in the city, the ACLU reported.