LOS ANGELES (CBS) — The mayor and police chief argued Tuesday that it is imperative for the Los Angeles Police Department to remain around the 10,000-officer level despite an ongoing budget crisis, saying the size of the force contributed to a record decline in the city’s homicide rate last year.
Some council members recently questioned the need to maintain 9,963 police officers — a number set by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — when other city departments have been forced to drastically shrink in size through early retirements and layoffs.
Police Chief Charlie Beck responded that “public safety is the cornerstone of government. If this is not a safe city, then this is not a city that can deliver services or support human growth.”
He said the fact that there were 297 homicides in 2010 — the fewest since 281 homicides were recorded in 1967 — proved that the LAPD is “finally become big enough to do its job.”
The city had about 6.6 homicides per 100,000 people in 2010, the lowest per capita rate since 1964.
“When picking where to spend public money, you need to understand what are public priorities,” Beck said.
He said “297 homicides is way too many, but let me put that in perspective to you: the last chief of police that got that homicide rate is Bill Parker. It was 1964, and his mayor was Sam Yorty. That’s how long ago you have to go back in the history of this city to find this level of homicide…It’s because this city has decided to invest in public safety — that’s made
He added that his goal was to reduce gang homicides by another 50 percent.
But Councilman Bernard Parks, a former LAPD chief himself and current chairman of the City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee, said the city is not living within its means.
Parks told City News Service that the city will spend $1 billion of its $4 billion budget on pension and medical costs in the upcoming fiscal year. Of the remaining $3 billion, 70 percent will go to the Police and Fire departments, leaving all other departments to share the remaining 30 percent.
“Once July 1 arrives, it’s going to come to everyone’s attention that the city’s workforce in general is too large,” Parks said. “When you begin to look at what you’re spending on police and fire, compared to the rest of the city, you then have to make a decision how many more cuts are you willing to make in every other department to keep this mythical 9,963 (police officers).”
But Villaraigosa said he was not interested in shrinking the LAPD.
“People often say that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the mayor said. “Well, the LAPD isn’t broken, and it doesn’t need fixing to the extent that we are providing the resources that they need.
“I would submit to you that as we begin budget deliberations — we’re looking at a $360 million deficit in the coming year — our commitment to maintain the ranks of the Los Angeles Police Department at least at attrition levels today will go a long way to ensuring that we’ll continue our efforts to draw down crime in the city of Los Angeles.”
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