For the first time in several years, both the LAPD and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department have ample war chests to hire more officers -- but Sheriff Lee Baca is leaving Chief William J. Bratton in the dust.
An aggressive recruitment effort has helped the Sheriff's Department hire 1,000 deputies this year, while the Los Angeles Police Department is lagging behind, having brought in about half that number of officers in 2006.
LAPD officials believe that their struggles are tied in part to a history of mistrust of the department by minority groups. It's an image that has been reinforced by a series of controversial incidents, including a videotaped police beating and the shooting death of a 19-month-old girl during a SWAT standoff.
Bratton went on the offensive Thursday, appearing on radio stations that appeal to young minority listeners and urging them to consider a job with the LAPD to help improve the department from within.
"We're hiring," Bratton said on KPWR-FM (105.9), whose tag line is "Where Hip-Hop Lives."
"Particularly in the minority communities in this city that have had tensions between the LAPD and minorities historically, if you want to make a difference, be the difference," he told listeners. "So come and work it from the inside out."
Next week, LAPD officials plan to meet with Sheriff's Department recruitment officers to determine how they did so well.
The sheriff has traditionally had trouble hiring, in part because deputies must spend their first years in the troubled jail system. But a recent bump in pay means that entry-level deputies make slightly more than LAPD rookies.
Hoping to improve conditions in the jails and stem early inmate releases, Baca made hiring more deputies a top priority, spending more than the LAPD.
The LAPD has hired 540 recruits so far in 2006, but it has lost 365 officers through retirement, resignations and other types of departures.
In an interview, Bratton expressed frustration at finally having the money, thanks to a trash tax, to hire more cops but having a small field of possible candidates.
"We've got the compounding problem that the kids we'd most like to hire, kids from the city -- the school system only graduates 50% of its students and those who come out, come out with an eighth-grade level of education. They can't pass our exams," Bratton said. That compounds the difficulty of hiring "kids from the city who have an appreciation for the city, but it also hurts the ethnic makeup we are striving to keep in balance."
Law enforcement experts said Bratton is a key selling point for LAPD recruiting, both because of the crime drop L.A. is experiencing under his tenure and his charismatic style.
But they said the intense scrutiny the department has received from the press, politicians and community activists is often a drawback for a new recruit.
Matt Newhouse, a former USC football player from Diamond Bar who begins at the Sheriff's Academy on Wednesday, said he liked the family feeling of the department as well as the fact that it seemed to be less in the limelight.
"The LAPD is so strictly scrutinized," he said.
Joseph McNamara, a Hoover Institute fellow at Stanford and former San Jose police chief, agreed.
He said the perception, justly or unjustly, is "the Sheriff's Department doesn't seem to be in hot water like the LAPD. The ghost of the past is haunting the LAPD even though Bill Bratton is a charismatic leader and reformer."
Baca and Bratton have complained for years that they don't have the money to hire more officers. But this year, both the City Council and the county Board of Supervisors gave the lawmen significant funding increases.
The council diverted some money from a trash collection tax to eventually expand the police force by 1,000 officers in five years, while the board allocated more funds for new deputies and jail expansion.
Departments across the nation are on a hiring binge, shrinking the pool of potential recruits.
Sheriff's Recruitment Unit Lt. Joe Fernnell said his job these days is more like that of a college football scout, with his recruiters scouring job fairs across the country for viable candidates, going into schools and colleges and exploiting family ties to the department while pitching the department's family atmosphere and starting pay of $53,000 to $59,000.
"I'm not about to tell you my secrets, because then our competitors would be using them next week," he said.
About 21,000 people have submitted deputy applications this year. The department has conducted 4,000 background checks and eventually selected the 1,000 deputies.
A clear advantage the Sheriff's Department now enjoys comes from the 18% pay increase the Board of Supervisors approved. Also, the sheriff accepts recruits at age 19 1/2 , while the LAPD requires them to be 21.
An LAPD officer with a college degree starts at $56,800, while a deputy with the same credentials begins at $59,000.
But Bratton and other L.A. officials agree that the difference in recruitment success is about more than money. The chief said he is eager to bring young people from the inner city onto the force but is having trouble interesting those who qualify.
"We want women. We want Latinos. We want African Americans, and right now we are struggling, to be quite frank with you," Bratton told Rick Dees on Thursday on KMVN-FM (93.9).
Jason Leach, a USC football player and former San Diego Charger who became the 1,000th new sheriff's recruit this year, said he chose the department in part because his soon-to-be mother-in-law is a retired sheriff's sergeant and his soon-to-be brother-in-law is a deputy at the La Crescenta station.
"I wanted to do this for a long time before football," he said.
Leach said he's not bothered by the fact he will have to spend several years patrolling the jails. He says the duty will allow him to learn more instead of being thrust as a rookie onto the streets.
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The L.A. County Sheriff's Department and LAPD have had contrasting recruiting experiences. A comparison of agencies:
Responsibilities: Provide policing to 40 cities and unincorporated areas, run the jail system, provide security for the MTA, courts and community colleges
Number of sworn officers: 8,475
Number of recruits this year: 1,000
Number of deputies lost to attrition this year: 287
Starting salary: $53,000 to $59,000 depending on education
First job: Probably a custody officer in the jail system
Next job: Deputies can apply to leave jail in two years to transfer to Palmdale, Malibu, Lancaster or the transit service division.
Responsibilities: Provide policing for Los Angeles
Number of sworn officers: 9,407
Number of recruits this year: 540
Number of officers lost to attrition this year: 365
Starting salary: $52,638 to $56,898
First job: Sent to a patrol division as a basic officer
Next job: Within three years, could be promoted to trainer officer, and within five years, can apply to become a sergeant.
Source: Sheriff's Department, LAPD, Times reports