We would like to believe that it is a genuine commitment to putting public safety first that has given L.A. a national ranking it can be proud of. In calling Los Angeles the “safest big city in America,” Chief Beck cited crime statistics for the first half of 2012, comparing our per capita violent crime rate to Houston, Chicago and New York – the other three cities with at least 2 million residents.
The Chief, joined by Mayor Villaraigosa at a press conference, reported that the city experienced less than 9,000 violent crimes (homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults) in the first six months of 2012, a decrease of nearly 9 percent compared with the same period last year. Tempering the positive overall report, however, was news that homicides in the San Fernando Valley increased by 50 percent and that several areas of the city saw significant increases in property-related crimes.
We agree with the Chief that the realignment law is undoubtedly a factor in driving the increase in property crimes. The sad fact is that most offenders now receive little supervision and are not placed in assistance programs after being released, which in turn increases their propensity to commit new crimes.
“Crime is not down in all categories; crime is not down in all parts of the city,” Chief Beck told the L.A. Times, but ... our strategies in crime reduction are working.” Let’s not forget that it was not so long ago that this city was known as the murder capital of the United States. That is not true anymore.
While crime is down, let’s not forget that 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. 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. The truth is that the Department has grown, but only on paper and not in terms of police officers doing actual police work every day. Every 100 officers pulled from fieldwork to backfill civilian positions is the equivalent of removing about 30 police cars citywide, resulting in a dramatic impact on the LAPD’s ability to respond to calls and keep crime down. We do remain concerned that the insistence on continuing to hiring new officers may be setting the City up for a public safety crisis and potentially subjecting our members to unnecessary and irresponsible furloughs or pay cuts in order to keep up a “magic number” of officers.
Thankfully, in Los Angeles, most elected officials understand that “Public Safety First” is not simply a slogan but rather a commitment to ensuring public safety budget needs are met before making cuts in other areas. It should not be a difficult concept to understand, but in cities across America where some politicians are willing to risk trimming law enforcement budgets, the consequences can be horrendous.
Perhaps the most dramatic current example is Stockton, Calif., which last month became the largest city in the U.S. to file for bankruptcy court protection. In the run-up to the bankruptcy filing, Stockton shrank its police force by 26 percent in four years. As a result, murders more than doubled from 24 in 2008 to 58 in 2011. In the decade that ended last year, robberies were up 28 percent and burglaries rose 44 percent.
Today, living in Stockton means the police no longer respond to non-injury traffic accidents or send officers to keep the peace in civil disputes. Two more California cities have subsequently filed for bankruptcy court protection – Mammoth Lakes and, closer to home, San Bernardino.
As recently as April, L.A. City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana warned that Los Angeles needed to do more to get its financial house in order or risk a municipal bankruptcy. He has since backed away from that dire warning but believes much work still has to be done to put L.A. back on solid financial footing for the long term. No one can quarrel with that as long as Mr. Santana and everyone else in the budgeting process in L.A. remember to keep public safety first.
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