LAPD Drops Plan to Use Salary Money for Picnics

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After sharp criticism from city lawmakers, Los Angeles police officials withdrew a proposal Wednesday to divert $40,000 from police salaries to pay for picnics for volunteers of a newly expanded cleanup program.

"It was a mistake," said LAPD Deputy Chief David Gascon. "We made a bureaucratic blunder."

The department will pursue other funding sources for Operation Sparkle, which has been operating for five years on donations in the San Fernando Valley and is about to be expanded citywide, Gascon said.

Councilman Richard Alarcon introduced the motion at a City Council meeting Wednesday at the request of the LAPD, which runs the cleanup program. To reward volunteers, picnics are planned after each weekly cleanup event.

But council members Laura Chick and Mark Ridley-Thomas criticized the proposal, saying the picnics should be funded with donations, as they have been in the Valley, and not with money intended to put police on the streets.

"We've somehow managed to have it in the Valley without having to take it out of LAPD's budget," said Chick, adding that the money could pay for police equipment or overtime salaries.

Ridley-Thomas agreed, saying "As much time as we spent . . . getting pay raises and salaries (for police), to advance a motion that would spend as much as $40,000 for picnics and the like seems to be questionable at the least."

Later, Chick and Ridley-Thomas said they were happy to learn that police were backing away from the proposal but said they plan on examining closely whatever alternative funding police propose.

Chick said she will push to keep the program cost-free.

"I will only be happy if the picnics will be of no expense to any entity in the city," she said.

In the past, paint and equipment for Operation Sparkle have been donated, either by volunteers, businesses or corporate sponsors. Last year, for example, the Southland Corp., owners of the 7-Eleven convenience store chain, provided food and beverages for volunteers while Waste Management Co. loaned the dumpsters.

Since 1989, Operation Sparkle has employed volunteers in the Valley to pick up trash, sweep sidewalks and paint over graffiti.

But beginning Saturday, Operation Sparkle will launch cleanup efforts in each of the LAPD's four bureaus by mobilizing an estimated 20,000 volunteers. Planners hope to remove more than 30 tons of trash and cover graffiti with about 20,000 gallons of paint.

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