With the city's crime rate pushed to historic lows, the Los Angeles Police Department reached another milestone on Monday - employing a record 9,895 officers, the most in its history.
The 63 recruits who started training at the Police Academy in Elysian Park pushed the department past its previous record of 9,852 set in 1998. "Public safety must always remain our top priority. There is never too high a price to pay for the security of our families," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said at a morning news conference, flanked by public officials and the class of new cadets.
"And we must not back down from our commitment to putting more cops on the street and making L.A. the safest big city in America." With 9,895 officers, the city is inching toward its goal of having a force of 10,000 officers by 2010 - a promise Villaraigosa made during his 2005 mayoral campaign.
The mayor and City Councilmen Eric Garcetti, Tom LaBonge, Bill Rosendahl and Jack Weiss said public safety remains a top priority, even during tough economic times.
"We cannot spend too much on public safety," said Garcetti, president of the City Council. "We will never be able to get rid of crime 100 percent in Los Angeles, but we will not rest until we get as safe as we can."
The city is facing a $1 billion deficit over the next two years and leaders are considering layoffs and service cuts. But city leaders vowed that the LAPD's sworn force will not be impacted.
"We are facing a tough budget year. We are facing an extraordinarily challenging economy," said Weiss, who is running for city attorney in today's election. "It is in tough economic times that you need cops more."
Villaraigosa scoffed at suggestions that he had scheduled the news conference as a ploy in his re-election campaign.
"We did it because we are now at 9,895," he said. "This is the day when people start. When they start, they are part of the force."
Rosendahl thanked the city's taxpayers for footing the bill for more police officers through higher trash-collection fees, and said he'd like to see the LAPD expanded to 12,000 officers.
"We will not stop the hiring process," Rosendahl said. "We will not."
Villaraigosa said the city is on track to beat the 2010 deadline and reach 10,000 police officers this year, with allocation from the federal stimulus package helping the city reach that goal. Even if that money isn't forthcoming, the mayor said, the city will hire officers.
"This has got to be the priority in this town," Villaraigosa said.
Even with a 10,000-officer force, the city's ratio of police officers to population still lags behind other big cities. According to data in a 2007 Federal Bureau of Investigation report, New York's ratio was 1 to 232; Chicago's was 1to 207 and Boston's was 1 to 273. Los Angeles' ratio was 1 to 406.
In June 1998, the city used federal funding to help reach the previous high of 9,852 sworn officers. Deployment numbers dropped as that money dried up.
LAPD Chief William Bratton said the ongoing buildup of officers and the opening of new stations has helped reduce emergency response times in the city. Response times that averaged 8 to 9 minutes before he was hired in 2002 are now running 6 to 7 minutes, he said.
In the San Fernando Valley, for instance - an area that encompasses 222 square miles - the emergency response time last year averaged 6.7 minutes, compared with 7.7 minutes just two years earlier.
Since 2002, LAPD has added three new divisions, including two in the Valley, bringing the citywide total to 21. Topanga Division in Canoga Park and Olympic Division in Koreatown opened on Jan. 4, while Mission Division opened in 2005 in North Hills.
"The Valley has picked up two of those new stations," Bratton said. "The Valley should feel quite pleased with how the money that they have been paying with their tax dollars have been utilized."
Staff Writers Jason Kandel and Brandon Lowrey contributed to this report.