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Karen Bass wants more hiring at the LAPD, saying L.A. residents ‘don’t feel safe’

Rep. Karen Bass speaks while standing before a microphone
Rep. Karen Bass, shown in October, said she would work to move hundreds of officers out of desk jobs and onto patrol duty.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
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U.S. Rep. Karen Bass unveiled her public safety plan on Tuesday, saying that as mayor she would move 250 Los Angeles police officers out of desk jobs and into patrols, while ensuring that the department returns to its authorized strength of 9,700 officers.

Bass said she would add hundreds of civilian employees at the LAPD, in a bid to free up officers from performing clerical duties. She also called for the department to hire more detectives and investigators, noting that the LAPD solved just over half of the city’s murders in 2020.

In a letter accompanying her plan, Bass concluded that residents of Los Angeles “don’t feel safe today.”

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“Whether you’ve had your car broken into, your backpack stolen, your property damaged — or you’ve seen news coverage of home robberies, or violent assaults — more and more Angelenos I speak with tell me crime has touched them personally, and they feel scared,” said Bass, a Democrat who has been in Congress for over a decade.

Bass’ plan is aimed at keeping LAPD spending roughly the same as it is now. Nevertheless, the proposal has put her at odds with some of L.A.’s activist groups, which want city leaders to cut the Police Department budget and redirect the proceeds into affordable housing, mental health counselors and other programs.

Hamid Khan, a coordinator with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, criticized Bass for seeking 9,700 officers, saying every dollar spent on police is a dollar that’s not available for much needed social services.

Bass’ proposal, he said, is “disheartening and disappointing.”

“It’s just recycled stuff that we have seen before,” he said.

Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, also panned the proposal, saying it shows that Bass is being “pushed to the right by her opponents and her potential opponents.” Bass is distancing herself, Abdullah said, from “those of us who’ve been doing progressive justice work over the last several decades.”

“I don’t think it’s either visionary or a winning strategy,” she said.

In recent years, both Khan and Abdullah have called for the LAPD to be defunded. Bass, on the other hand, told the Washington Post in June 2020 — weeks after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis — that the phrase “defund police” was “probably one of the worst slogans ever.”

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Bass released her proposal in the same week that Rick Caruso, a former Police Commission president who has long emphasized public safety, is expected to announce his decision on whether he will run for mayor in the June 7 election. Bass is the latest mayoral candidate to lay out her spending priorities for the LAPD, which is confronting a surge in gun violence and homicides.

Last year, homicides hit their highest level since 2006, the year that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa embarked on his plan to expand the size of the LAPD by 1,000 officers. The number of shooting victims in L.A. last year were up more than 50% compared with 2019, the last full year before the onset of COVID-19.

The LAPD currently has just over 9,500 officers — about 200 below its authorized staffing. The department has 2,686 civilian employees, about 150 below its authorized levels.

City Atty. Mike Feuer, another candidate for mayor, said last year that the city should “reject calls to defund law enforcement” and return the LAPD to 10,000 officers, the number it had at the onset of COVID-19.

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Councilman Joe Buscaino, another mayoral hopeful, said he would expand the LAPD to 11,000 officers, while offering few details on how he would pay for such a costly increase in staffing.

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Businessman Mel Wilson said Tuesday that he too wants a force of 11,000 officers, along with the hiring of 350 mental health experts to assist officers.

The positions being staked out by the mayoral candidates highlight the degree to which crime has emerged as an element of the upcoming election, after years of being a relative nonissue at City Hall.

In recent weeks, Bass has highlighted the LAPD’s problems with attrition, with officers leaving at a faster rate than new ones are being hired.

On Tuesday, she said she would expand the LAPD’s Community Safety Partnerships, a program long touted by Buscaino, which places police officers in the same community for several years and assigns them to work closely with intervention workers.

Bass also said she would assign the city’s personnel department to recruit officers who are “invested in reform.” And she promised to direct financial help to businesses recovering from “smash and grab” thefts.

“Bass understands that there are no ‘victimless’ crimes,” the plan says. “Property crimes devastate families and small businesses.”

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A Bass spokeswoman declined to weigh in on the Police Commission’s recent request for a 12% increase to the LAPD budget.

Anna Bahr, a Bass spokeswoman, said her boss would seek an audit of LAPD spending once she takes office, to determine whether funds are being spent effectively.

The city spends more than $3 billion per year on the LAPD, including employee pensions. While some elements of Bass’ plan would cost more money, such as community policing, others would ensure that existing funds are spent more efficiently, Bahr said.

“She wants to keep the LAPD budget where it is right now,” she added.

Michael Trujillo, a campaign strategist for Buscaino, said the councilman and Bass agree on the need for more civilian staffing and community policing programs. But he argued that keeping the department at 9,700 officers, the number budgeted by the council last year, won’t be enough to address the rise in gun violence.

Feuer strategist John Shallman said several of Bass’ ideas can be found in Feuer’s platform.

“One of the challenges with being the first candidate with a plan is that Mike has to watch others copy his approach,” Shallman said in an email.

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Times staff writer Kevin Rector contributed to this report.

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