LOS ANGELES -- A drop in crime and a commitment to adding police officers puts Los Angeles in a good position to compete for $4 billion in public safety funds from the federal economic stimulus package, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Thursday.
Cities and counties will compete for $1 billion through the federal Community Oriented Policing Services program, or COPS, which will pay for hiring thousands of police officers nationwide. Another $3 billion in grants will be available for local and state police to target crimes such as violence against women and Internet exploitation of children.
"This is a good day. What a difference an election makes," Villaraigosa said at a morning news conference at the Los Angeles Police Department's new Rampart station. Asked how much of the $4 billion Los Angeles will go after, Villaraigosa quipped, "The whole thing."
The mayor will head back to Washington, D.C., Thursday night -- his fourth trip since December -- to meet with the secretaries of Energy, Education, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, as well as the attorney general to discuss how best to spend the stimulus money in Los Angeles.
Villaraigosa will also be part of a delegation of mayors meeting with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Crime typically increases during economic downturns, but in Los Angeles, property crimes have declined 6.8 percent. Violent crime has increased 0.2 percent, but homicides are down 32 percent so far this year, according to the LAPD.
Police Chief William Bratton expects those numbers to help when the city applies for federal funds to hire more police officers. The LAPD has 9,810 police officers and expects to hit an all-time high -- 9,852 -- next month. Under the Clinton administration in the 1990s, the COPS program required cities to match 25 percent of the funds received to hire more officers. The program was discontinued under the Bush administration, but is being brought back under Obama's stimulus package -- without the 25 percent match -- which the chief said will make it easier for cities to apply for the money.
"Nobody would have been able to hire any of those officers (with the matching requirement)," Bratton said. Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles, said Measure R, a half-cent sales tax approved by voters in November, and Measure Q, a $7 billion bond measure for school construction, show Los Angeles is financially committed to improving its infrastructure.
"The local governments have to be willing to put skin in the game to get money," Becerra said. The mayor on Thursday also welcomed the Legislature's passage of a long-delayed state budget."We here in Los Angeles are relieved that the Legislature has finally done its job," Villaraigosa said.However, the mayor said he remained concerned about $12 billion in tax increases. "I'm hoping we're not victimized and they don't balance the rest of the budget on the backs of cities," he said