New L.A. Budget Is Ushering Cops, Firemen Out the Door

The most unfortunate side effect of the LAPD’s turmoil during those years was the reversal of what had been a downward trend in crime. After peaking in the mid-1980s, crime in Los Angeles declined more or less steadily until 1999, by which time Chief Parks and his policies had thoroughly ravaged the department. It wasn’t until Parks was sacked that crime resumed the downward trend that continues to this day. Overall crime in the city remains at historically low levels: Part I (i.e., serious) crime in 2010 was just 272.9 per 10,000 residents, a figure that hasn’t been seen in Los Angeles since the early 1950s. By way of comparison, the figure hovered near 1,000 throughout the 1980s and remained above 500 through most of the 1990s.

I hasten to point out that when it comes to driving down officer morale, Charlie Beck on his worst day couldn’t come within a hundred miles of Bernard Parks, who treated his officers like so many bugs on the sidewalk. But there will nonetheless be a price to be paid if LAPD officers are treated less than fairly, and it won’t be paid by just the officers themselves.

So far, at least, the city’s misplaced priorities haven’t resulted in higher crime. But the downward trend can’t continue forever, especially when the city, in its shortsighted effort to save money, idles more than 500 officers every day rather than pay them for the overtime they’ve worked. Perhaps worse, hundreds of other officers are spending their workdays in positions ordinarily staffed by lower-paid civilian workers, this owing to an ongoing citywide hiring freeze. Though the city has maintained the police department at just under 10,000 officers, the figure is illusory given the number of officers forced to take time off or work behind a desk.

And despite the generally sunny picture on crime in Los Angeles, there are real but so far little-noticed consequences to these police staffing policies.  There are 21 patrol divisions within the city, each with its own station and complement of officers. So far this year, six of these divisions have seen increases in homicides and five have seen increases in overall violent crime. Southeast Division, in South Central L.A., had seen 24 murders as of June 11, a 14-percent increase over a year ago and a 50-percent increase over the same period in 2009. If you were a relative of one of those murder victims, how would you feel knowing that the detective assigned to investigate the crime is sitting at home because there is no money to pay him?

If the increase in violent crime remains confined to the city’s poorer neighborhoods, there will be little political impetus for devoting resources to combat it. In making the spending choices they have, the mayor and the city council have in effect made it clear they are content with crime remaining at its current level or even rising a bit, a disturbing thought for those living in L.A.’s rougher neighborhoods.

LAPD officers have already borne their share of the city’s financial difficulties, with many seeing their pay go down by 20 percent or more with the loss of overtime. They have forgone raises for years even as other city workers saw their salaries go up during the same period. They already contribute 9 percent of their salaries to their pensions and pay for a portion of their health benefits. Further sacrifices may indeed be in order given the gravity of city’s financial troubles, but the future of Los Angeles depends on the LAPD’s ability to compete with other departments in the recruitment and retention of police officers. The police union has been and remains willing to make reasonable concessions so as to help the city through hard times, but if Chief Beck and city leaders expect their police officers to stay motivated in fighting crime, if they expect the city to be safe and livable in five or ten or twenty years, there has to be a carrot at the end of the stick they’re giving us.