While it’s hardly surprising to hear politicians say one thing but do another, it’s unsettling to see these contradictions happen with public safety.
Some elected officials in Los Angeles may claim that public safety is a top priority, but their actions tell a different story. Claims that the Department is fully funded and that there are more officers patrolling the city are both over-simplified and misleading.
Although in recent years the LAPD has grown modestly in size, there are currently fewer officers doing the police work they were trained and hired to do. On a daily basis, the LAPD has 540 fewer officers working because of forced time off. Another 154 are filling critical civilian positions, and at least 60 more officers are working at the Metropolitan Detention Center to fill in for detention officers the City won’t hire. The math is simple: every 100 officers pulled off patrol to preclude overtime pay or backfill civilian positions equates to the removal of 30 police cars citywide.
These elected officials have shown that their commitment to public safety amounts to little more than lip service. Several years ago, the City tripled trash collection fees and promised to hire more officers with this money. But over the last few years, the City has made significant budget cuts to the Department. Officers have done more with less, in the form of vehicles, equipment, training and support services. This year, City leaders have proposed to once again cut LAPD funding by $120 million in anticipation of a fiscal shortfall.
Because of reductions to the budget, the LAPD has essentially lost the equivalent number of people it has hired. Yet, these same leaders tell the public that the Department has grown. And it has grown, but only on paper and not in terms of police officers doing actual police work every day.
Officials who say public safety is their number-one priority do so because they know that more officers on the street means safer communities. Creating the appearance of a fully staffed Department leads the public to believe that everything is all right, yet we’re already seeing signs of seriously strained resources; in certain cases the Department has gone on tactical alert to make up for a shortage of officers on the street.
We understand that balancing the city budget forced some painful choices, but telling residents that public safety is a priority and then cutting its funding is, at best, disingenuous. City leaders can’t have it both ways.