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Lack of LAPD civilian staff keeping officers off streets, officials say

Lack of LAPD civilian staff keeping officers off streets, officials say
LAPD officers salute during a ceremony at police headquarters in May to honor the more than 200 officers killed over the years in the line of duty. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles city officials say they want to hire more civilian staff for the Los Angeles Police Department and are worried that a shortage is cutting into the time officers spend patrolling the streets.

The number of LAPD civilian staff -- who fill positions such as secretaries, typists, analysts and technicians -- has dropped by more than 600 since fiscal year 2007 to 2,691. That means police officers are spending their time trying to fill these gaps, or that necessary work is left undone, said LAPD Asst. Chief Sandy Jo MacArthur at a meeting of the City Council's Public Safety Committee on Wednesday.

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"We need our civilian workforce back up to snuff," she said. "We need the right staff to do the job correctly."

While the number of civilian staff has dropped, the number of police officers has increased by 276 since fiscal year 2007 to 9,809. A report presented to the committee Wednesday compared the ratio of civilian staff to sworn officers at police departments in Oakland, San Bernardino, Torrance, San Francisco, Anaheim, San Diego, Burbank, New York and Culver City. LAPD had the fewest civilian staff per officer of any department except San Francisco's.

Councilman Mike Bonin worried the lack of civilian workers in the Police Department are like a "giant vacuum that’s taking officers off patrol." 

Patrol officers spend about 40% of their time doing administrative work, including filing reports and making court appearances, according to a report reviewed by the committee. The council committee agreed they want to see that percentage reduced, and will start looking for room in the budget to fill the civilian positions.

Councilman Mitch Englander said the shortage is a problem even though the city is experiencing historically low crime rates.

"The second we start seeing some upticks, we're in trouble," he said.

Englander emphasized that hiring more civilian workers would merely be "restoring support staff." He compared such workers to a NASCAR pit crew.

"Right now we've got the race car driver stopping to change his own tires," he said.

Follow @skarlamangla on Twitter for more local government news.

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