Neighbors of the Los Angeles Police Academy in Westchester turned out in surprising numbers last week for the new training center's formal inauguration.
Several thousand visitors on Saturday took tours of the 18,000-square-foot academy, where police officials hope to train more than 1,000 recruits a year.
"The more cops around, the better," said Westchester resident Jerry Kobs, shortly before touring the academy.
Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and police Chief Willie L. Williams praised a project that they say was completed millions of dollars under budget and years ahead of schedule. Dozens of politicians and law enforcement leaders joined in the dedication ceremony.
The 14-acre academy grounds and building, formerly owned by electronics giant Hewlett-Packard, was purchased by the city in March, 1994, for $13 million. An additional $10 million will be spent to refurbish the four-story building, said Sgt. Dave Dalton, Los Angeles Police Department project manager.
Before finding the Westchester site, officials planned to spend about $40 million and about seven years to build a facility in Sylmar. The Westchester project has been funded by a police facility bond measure passed by city voters in April, 1989.
It became necessary to speed construction of the academy after Riordan unveiled a public safety plan in October, 1993, that calls for hiring 2,855 officers this year and in 1996, Dalton said.
The LAPD academy in Elysian Park, which was built in the 1930s and will continue to be used for training, could not accommodate the demand, he added.
The new academy has already begun training its first 90-member class and will eventually turn out one class a month. The recruits will spend four of their seven months of training at the Westchester site before finishing up at the Elysian Park academy with tactics and firearms instruction, Dalton said.
Although the Westchester facility has no firing range, the recruits will practice on a video simulator. The instructors can create various situations on the screen, and the recruits react to them using an electronic device that simulates a gun.
Recruits will learn to write reports, investigate crime scenes and make arrests. They will also take Spanish classes.
Though Saturday marked the academy's formal opening, the training center is not yet completed.
Work is still under way on the second, third and fourth floors to install offices, locker rooms, a mock courtroom for trial practice and a television studio for in-house productions.
An interim child-care facility, which would accommodate up to 24 children, will be in service by mid-summer.
Dalton, who oversaw public hearings on the academy project, said he has not heard any negative comments from neighbors. He said that when he told residents the academy hoped to send recruits jogging through surrounding neighborhoods, the answers were unexpected.
"People would stand up and say, 'I live at such and such a place, and they better run down my street,' " he said. "Every single person showed tremendous, overwhelming support."
Neighbor Debbie Sander, who sells real estate, said, "I really think this will improve the property values around here."