Plan to Expand LAPD Falling Short of Goals
The ambitious plan to expand the size of the Los Angeles Police Department by nearly 40% over five years has fallen behind schedule, with the department growing at only about half the rate that Mayor Richard Riordan and Police Chief Willie L. Williams had projected a year ago.
A larger Police Department has become the central preoccupation of the city’s political leadership, but the LAPD has grown by only 192 officers to 7,792, short of the gain of about 388 officers that had been projected by now, a review by The Times has found.
Other goals stated in the city’s “Project Safety Los Angeles"--including expanded overtime payments to put more officers on street patrols--have also produced less than half of what was projected.
The shortfalls have led the mayor’s office to privately increase pressure on Williams for more progress. Councilwoman Laura Chick has asked the LAPD brass to report later this month on the issue to the council’s Public Safety Committee.
“I know we’re not on target,” Chick said. “I’m concerned with our progress, and I don’t believe we can wait until the end of the year (for a status report). We need to know all along how we are doing.”
The mayor’s office and Police Department officials acknowledge that some interim goals in the plan are lagging, but they say that the final projections can be met by the end of the expansion in July, 1998.
“We agree that the Police Department is behind on some of its goals,” said William C. Violante, the mayor’s deputy for public safety. “But this is a five-year plan, and we can still be where we want to be at the end of five years.”
In the meantime, front-line police supervisors said they are seeing the first positive impacts of the public safety plan. Several watch commanders said they have been able to use increased overtime payments to add patrols. The addition of just one patrol car can make a noticeable difference in police divisions that are sometimes patrolled by as few as six squad cars.
The police buildup had its genesis in the 1993 mayoral race in which Riordan campaigned primarily on a promise to add 3,000 officers to the LAPD in four years.
A year ago, after little more than three months in office, Riordan stood in front of rows of blue-clad officers at the Police Academy to unveil a slightly less ambitious proposal. In that plan, called Project Safety Los Angeles, Riordan said he would find the money to increase the 7,600-member force by 2,855 officers over five years. He said the equivalent of 1,480 more police officers could be put on the streets by moving desk officers into the street and paying cash overtime to reduce the large number of officers who are typically off duty on compensatory time.
To pay for the buildup, Riordan designed--and the City Council approved--a variety of budgeting maneuvers that expanded Police Department funding by about $100 million over 18 months, not counting money for pay raises this year.
But the public safety plan has run into problems, in large part because of its overly optimistic prediction that the flow of officers leaving the LAPD could be quickly stanched.
While the LAPD has lost an average of about 400 officers a year since 1980, the plan projected that the force would lose just 365 officers in fiscal year 1993-94 and only 330 a year after that. In fact, officers are continuing to leave at the rate of about 400 a year, said Cmdr. Dan Watson, head of the department’s Personnel Group.
Williams and Riordan had devised a series of steps that they hoped would slow retirements and resignations, but some of those are just getting off the ground.
The lack of a three- or four-day workweek has been cited as one of the main reasons that LAPD officers move to neighboring suburban departments. In January, four of 18 LAPD geographic divisions will begin a yearlong pilot program to put officers on alternative schedules.
And despite this year’s 7% pay raise and attendant bonuses, LAPD officers still make less than their counterparts in many other Southern California law enforcement agencies.
“A big part of the issue is compensation,” said the LAPD’s Watson. “We are no longer highly competitive in the law enforcement field. People can leave here and go to a place where it’s nicer to live, that is less expensive and work a lesser workload and do it for the same or more money.
“It’s hard to look someone in the eye and say they should stay, under those conditions.”
The problem of flight to other police departments has been exacerbated, LAPD officials said, because officers are no longer required to serve at least 20 years to become entitled to at least a portion of their pension benefits.
But the LAPD’s personnel office and Riordan’s deputies said they believe that the number of officers leaving the LAPD should begin to drop because of a number of factors: the impending availability of modified work schedules; the purchase of new equipment, including the recent acquisition of 330 new squad cars, and the increased availability of cash to pay officers for their overtime.
Mayoral Chief of Staff William Ouchi acknowledged that to decrease attrition, the city government will have to find even more money to raise police salaries. “That is something that must be done,” Ouchi said. “What will happen to our city if we don’t?”
The loss of veteran officers has not been the only problem for the police expansion. New hiring has also hit stumbling blocks.
In January, the department canceled one Police Academy class because most of the hiring and training staff had been diverted to emergency field duties after the Northridge earthquake. Thirteen classes of 60 recruits each were required this year to meet the plan’s objectives.
And the LAPD’s effort to hire officers from other police department has mostly failed. The department hoped to pick up 280 “lateral transfers” over four years, but has hired less than 20 in the year since the plan was announced.
“They aren’t exactly pounding down our door,” said one LAPD official, noting that many of the applicants have tarnished records with their current police agencies.
Police Department officials said they believe that the hiring shortfall can be made up over five years, in part by speeding the entry of new recruits. The department believes that it will be able to open a second Police Academy in Westchester at the start of 1995, augmenting the current facility in Elysian Park. That would be six months ahead of schedule, allowing 80 new officers to enter training each month, instead of 60.
In laying out the public safety plan, Riordan and Williams promised to make better use of the officers already on the force, in an effort to correct chronically low deployment levels. A Times survey two years ago found that an average of just 315 officers in 175 squad cars patrolled the city during a typical eight-hour shift.
The public safety plan proposes putting more officers on the street, in part by hiring civilians to take over jobs now filled by uniformed officers--such as clerks, secretaries and budget analysts.
But the “civilianization” program has so far replaced only about 61 officers with civilians, about half of what the safety plan had projected by this time. The delay was caused by the late introduction and approval of the program by the City Council, peculiarities of the city’s Civil Service system, and the extended training period for many of the civilians who have been hired.
The council approved the hiring of the first replacement civilians only in May, seven months after the plan was introduced to the public. Since then, the Police Department has had no problem hiring civilians to replace police officers.
But a new civilian employee can’t simply be moved into a job such as answering phones at an LAPD division. The city’s Civil Service “bumping” rules require a more complicated procedure that first offers the new jobs to the department’s veteran civilian employees.
Most of these civilian workers, called police service representatives, answer the department’s 911 calls and can’t be moved to replace police officers until new 911 operators have been trained. That can take eight to nine months.
One of the greatest contributors to the notoriously low deployment levels in the LAPD has been the department’s inability to pay officers cash for their overtime.
For many years, the city budget covered only about one-third of the Police Department’s overtime demands. As a result, officers were required to take compensatory time off for working extra hours, removing dozens of officers from the street on any given day.
Riordan proposed paying all overtime in cash, to return the equivalent of more than 400 officers a day to active duty in fiscal year 1993-94 and double that in the current fiscal year. But the plan has fallen short in this regard too.
While Riordan and the City Council were able to engineer an increase in the overtime budget by more than 2 1/2 times, they could not muster the quadrupling of overtime funding that the mayor had initially proposed. About $27 million that was to go toward extra police duty instead had to be diverted to police pay raises.
By paying the extra hours, the department estimates that it put the equivalent of 190 more officers on duty, said Al Beuerlein, head of the LAPD’s Fiscal Support Bureau.
That does not live up to projections twice that size, but the additional troops have been a welcome relief to police watch commanders--the front-line supervisors who have struggled to field adequate forces.
Sgt. Jack Ahrens of the San Fernando Valley’s Devonshire Division said the extra overtime often allows for the addition of one more patrol unit to the about eight that he usually has on duty during the evening shift. Or sometimes an extra car might be used for a special detail--for instance, to survey an area that has been the focus of a spate of burglaries.
“That may be a small percentage increase, but we can really notice a difference in response time,” said Ahrens, who added that no statistics are yet available to back up his observation.
In South-Central’s Newton Division, Sgt. Paul McConnell reported a similar experience. He said that he used to routinely get calls from Police Department operators, saying that unanswered calls for service were stacking up. “That does not happen hardly at all now on my watch,” said McConnell. “It used to happen all the time.”
In the Westside’s Pacific Division, Sgt. Andrew Smith has as many as two more cars on patrol than a year ago. “I can only say we need even more,” said Smith. “But it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”
Top mayoral aide Ouchi said he is in a “normal state of healthy anxiety” about the progress of the safety plan. He said there is no need for dismay, as preparations are being laid for more growth.
“Like an iceberg, what’s visible is maybe not that much,” said Ouchi. “But I’m confident that beneath the surface, what is being accomplished is very substantial.”
Expanding the Force
Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and Police Chief Willie L. Williams announced a program a year ago to add 2,855 officers to the 7,600-officer Los Angeles Police Department over five years. The LAPD has grown by only half the number of officers it was projected to have by this month.
As of October, 1993: 7,600
Goal for October, 1994: 7,988, increase of 388
Current number: 7,792, increase of 192
Short of October goal: 196
The expansion plan also projected adding the equivalent of another 1,480 officers by paying more overtime and moving desk officers into the street. The city is so far falling short of its interim goals.
TRANSFER OF DESK OFFICERS
Goal for October, 1994: 120
Current number: 61
Short of goal: 59
Public safety plan projection: 421
Actual number of officers added: 190
Short of goal: 231
Note: Overtime figures available only through July 1.