After months of being stalemated with the City Council over how to pay for an ambitious Police Department expansion plan, Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan has proposed steps to get the program back on track.
In a letter sent Monday to a special city panel on police expansion funding, Riordan suggested accepting all of a $53.4-million federal grant but waiting until the next fiscal year to hire all the officers it is intended to fund. That would enable the city to hire 450 officers this year and add the remaining 260 in the next budget year if the city's financial picture brightens.
Riordan also suggested taking $6 million from a $12-million reserve fund set aside for police overtime, which he said would put the equivalent of 130 additional officers on the streets.
A city policy analyst said accepting the full federal grant would not put the city in a tighter bind next budget year because it could return part of the money then if it found it could not afford to do all the hiring.
"This gives us time and flexibility," said Stephen Wong, of the council's policy office.
At stake is the city's Public Safety Plan, which calls for adding 3,000 officers to the LAPD over four years and reflects a 1993 Riordan campaign promise and the top priority of his administration. It calls for adding 710 officers to the department each year.
But last summer, the City Council, voicing concerns about the program's costs, slowed the expansion to 450 officers a year and for a while considered asking taxpayers whether they would be willing to make up the difference. Riordan lambasted the council and said its action would jeopardize almost $20 million of the federal grant to help pay for the expansion. The council overrode his veto, citing expanding costs as the federal funding ended in future years and said it was not willing to risk libraries, parks and other city services for a full LAPD expansion.
The two sides agreed to set up a special panel to seeks ways to pay for the full expansion but until this week little progress had been made as the city began scaling back recruit class sizes and faced a Jan. 31 deadline to decide about accepting the grant.
Councilman Richard Alatorre, who pushed for the reduced expansion last summer and who heads the council's budget panel and the Ad Hoc Committee on Police Funding, said he liked at least part of Riordan's proposal.
"So long as it's understood [by federal officials] that we may have to give some of the money back, this is the right thing to do," Alatorre said.
As for the overtime, Alatorre said he would "like to do it" but wants to see first what options the city has for plugging an estimated $50-million gap in this fiscal year's $5-billion spending package. In his letter, the mayor promised to make budget-balancing suggestions.
"Everybody would like to see more police, but we just have to see if it's realistic," Alatorre said.
Two other council members who voted for the slowdown last year, Laura Chick and Mike Feuer, said they were encouraged by the mayor's proposal.
"This is the first time we've seen something specific about that from the mayor's office," said Chick, who heads the council's Public Safety Committee. "I'm optimistic and eager to see some details about how we balance our books this year."
Feuer, a member of both fiscal panels, called the mayor's police funding proposal "exactly the right approach."