In City Hall, budget season is underway. While the idea of bureaucrats discussing spending plans and financial allotments will tumble many Angelenos into a deep sleep, there have been a few eye-opening developments.
Chief among those is the $1.89 billion that Mayor Karen Bass is proposing for the Los Angeles Police Department, with a significant chunk going to increasing staff to 9,500 officers, a net gain of 400 over the current level. Anyone foolish enough to expect that she would seek to defund the LAPD is learning otherwise.
The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers in 2020 reset the national conversation around law enforcement, and Los Angeles leaders considered the idea of pulling money away from the LAPD and explored unarmed responses when possible during the protests that wracked the city. But even as homicides, shootings, and car thefts soared during the first part of the pandemic—and a wave of high-profile armed robberies helped raise the alarm level—many local leaders recognized that vocal protesters did not necessarily represent the city as a whole.
Violent crime has fallen in the past year, but so has the size of the LAPD—a department with more than 9,700 officers before the pandemic today counts 9,094 sworn personnel. During the 2022 election cycle, even as police abolitionist candidates Eunisses Hernandez and Hugo Soto-Martinez were rolling to wins over incumbents in District 1 and District 13, respectively, Bass was calling to bring LAPD staffing back to the pre-COVID level.
It’s been said that a budget is a reflection of political priorities, and in her State of the City speech on April 17, Bass was direct on what she prioritizes.
“My budget calls for urgent action to hire hundreds of officers next year on the way to restoring the department to full strength,” she said during the 32-minute address. “The situation we currently face means that we could see the number of LAPD officers drop below 9,000, and we have not seen numbers that small since 2002.”
It is not in Police Chief Michel Moore’s DNA to get giddy, but when he appeared at the Los Angeles Police Commission’s weekly meeting on April 25, he seemed close. Undertstadably so. In the wake of Floyd’s killing, the LAPD, like many law enforcement agencies across the country, experienced of wave of departures. Some were scheduled retirements after decades of service, but others left due to falling morale or other concerns.
There has always been employee churn in the LAPD. The issue in the last couple years has been that as officers flooded out of the department, the flow in has been a trickle. While the LAPD aims to have 13 Police Academy classes a year, each with a full 60 recruits, graduating classes recently have shrunk into the 20s or 30s.
So Moore was ebullient when discussing the mayor’s spending plan, which also dedicates funds to increase the civilian staff.
“Her budget, as proposed, supports the rebuilding of the department, including full hiring of sworn personnel,” Moore crowed to the Police Commission.
The Bass plan does not rely solely on hiring new officers, who take six months to complete Academy training and then have a probationary period. She has also dedicated funds to the Bounce program, which allows bringing back retired officers for one year. Anyone who left the department more than 30 days prior is eligible. The plan calls for 200 such positions.
While Bass is hawkish on police hiring, she grasps that opponents want money diverted from cops to programs that provide support to marginalized communities, as well as to people experiencing homelessness. In her State of the City speech she discussed a new Office of Community Safety, which “will build the capacity for community intervention workers, social workers, clinical psychologists and other experts to respond when law enforcement is not required.”
It’s a fine line—Bass is trying to satisfy people with completely different concepts of what public safety entails, responding both to traditional expectations of having police visible on the streets, while also recognizing that sending in gun-toting cops to certain situations can have unintended consequences, and that police should not be on the front lines of dealing with homelessness.
So it was notable during the speech that Bass gave a nod to Hernandez while discussing the Office of Community Safety. She hit the point again Thursday night in a meeting with leaders from Black Lives Matter—Los Angeles and others in Leimert Park. As the L.A. Times’ Julia Wick noted, Bass acknowledged the divide over when to deploy the LAPD, saying, “I know what the sentiment is in this room, but it doesn’t represent the sentiment in the entire city.”
As budget discussions play out, what is becoming evident is that Bass has more juice than any of her opponents, and the council is replete with members who share her vision—they want alternative approaches when applicable, but not to the point of letting constituents feel unsafe. Furthermore, this is Bass’ first budget, and while there have been times when an emboldened council bucks against a mayor’s spending plan, it is likely not happening here, when she is in her honeymoon stage.
That said, even if Bass secures council approval and can hasten the pace at which hiring happens, it does not guarantee that, at a time of low unemployment, enough people will want to join the LAPD to restore its ranks to 9,500 officers. Those hoping to shrink the department could lose in City Hall and still win the numbers game.
Still, Bass’ priorities are clear, and anyone who had a different expectation just didn’t listen closely—she told L.A. exactly what she would do during the campaign.
Bottom line: Bass wants a bigger LAPD. And it looks increasingly like she’s going to get it.
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