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Villaraigosa criticizes decision to cut LAPD hiring

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Thursday criticized three City Council members who voted to cut police hiring, accusing them of “devastating public safety” while preserving pet projects in their council districts.

The council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Wednesday voted 3 to 2 to halt Villaraigosa’s effort to add 1,000 officers to the Los Angeles Police Department -- a top priority of his administration -- as part of its effort to eliminate a $530-million shortfall.

“These steps are simply unacceptable,” he said. “They send a message that the security of our families and our homes is . . . no longer a top priority.”

The mayor said the cuts, if approved by the full council, would betray a promise that money from higher trash fees approved by voters would be used to hire more officers.

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The budget committee voted to halt the police hiring plan after its top policy analyst said that the city could be forced to lay off an additional 1,200 civilian city workers if the LAPD expansion continues. Those job cuts would be necessary on top of 800 other layoffs and 26 furlough days.

Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who has been a strong advocate for the mayor’s LAPD expansion, provided the tie-breaking vote on the police hiring freeze, describing it as the toughest vote of his career. He said he felt a need to end the “smoke and mirrors” in the budget.

“What put me over the top was, where are we going to get the money to run the city?” said Rosendahl, whose district includes L.A.'s coastal communities. “I don’t want to lay off 1,200 workers, and I don’t want to furlough people 40 days. We need basic city services, and we don’t need to fire all these people.”

Rosendahl was joined in his vote by Councilmen Bernard C. Parks and Greig Smith. Two steadfast Villaraigosa allies -- council members Wendy Greuel and Jose Huizar -- voted against the LAPD cut.

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Police Chief William J. Bratton, in an interview with KNX-AM (1070), called the vote “shortsighted and dangerous.”

Bratton accused the three councilmen of misleading the public on the severity of the proposed cut to the LAPD -- particularly in Rosendahl’s district.

“Within a couple of months I’ll be pulling out of each of his police stations, because of the lack of hiring, about 25 to 30 officers,” he said. “So people on the Westside I’m sure are going to be very happy to hear about the councilman’s vote to reduce their already short-staffed stations.”

Villaraigosa said the LAPD expansion plan could be financed by privatizing the city’s parking garages and parking meters. Council members have resisted efforts to privatize those assets, which produce revenue that stays in each member’s district for parking projects, and doubt that such complicated agreements could be finalized in time to generate money for this year’s budget.

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“Obviously, what was more important was protecting parking facilities in districts than to protect firefighters and cops,” Villaraigosa said of the council members’ objections. “That’s what is so galling about what happened here.”

Smith called the mayor’s comments “insulting.” Parking meter revenue is used to purchase and maintain meters, as well as build additional parking facilities in the city, he said.

Smith also dismissed the mayor’s assertion that the police hiring freeze would lead to an increase in crime, which is at its lowest level in decades.

Hiring an additional 1,000 officers has been one of Villaraigosa’s top policy objectives since he took office in 2005. So far, he has added 750 officers, for a total of 9,883.

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A hiring freeze would nearly wipe out those gains, since about 520 officers leave through normal attrition every year and would not be replaced, Villaraigosa said.

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phil.willon@latimes.com

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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