The LAPD Is Having a Serious Recruitment Problem

Cityside Column: Police Academy classes are consistently falling far short of their intended size

As the mayor’s race heats up, the leading candidates are all harrumphing about growing the size of the Los Angeles Police Department, which now numbers about 9,500 officers. The only question is by how much. The suggested boost ranges from the additional 200 cops U.S. Rep. Karen Bass wants to see, to the approximately 1,500 sworn personnel proposed first by Councilman Joe Buscaino, and then by mall developer Rick Caruso.

There’s just one problem: The LAPD can barely get people to come aboard. The department will be lucky in the near future just to maintain its current staffing level.

When it comes to hiring police officers, the city is moving about as quickly as a raft floating in a river of molasses and glue. Police Chief Michel Moore pointed to the problem when he spoke to the civilian Los Angeles Police Commission on March 1.

Police Academy recruitment classes generally have about 60 cadets, and the aim in the fiscal year that runs through June 30 is to hire 740 new cops and push the number of sworn personnel north of 9,700.

Instead, Moore told the Police Commission that the last four classes have all contained 40 or fewer recruits.

“At this pace we will significantly fall below our goal of 740 hires for this year,” he told the panel.

This is eye-opening. The LAPD is the second-biggest law enforcement agency in the nation, trailing only the New York City Police Department, and has a budget in the current fiscal year of $1.76 billion. Its hiring machine has been rolling for decades. The aim for five dozen cadets in each class accounts for a washout rate of about 20%.

In the effort to deal with a constant swell of retirements, the department dangles a number of carrots, starting with some big financial ones. The LAPD hiring website touts a beginning salary of nearly $71,000 during the Academy process, and cops with one year on the force earn more than $80,000. Sworn personnel get 15 vacation days after a year of service, and 23 days with 10 years on the force. The average base pay for the thousands of department personnel with the rank of lieutenant and below is $109,705, according to data on the website of City Controller Ron Galperin.

Then there’s OT. Last year, 36 department employees made more than $100,000 just in overtime. Even better, many cops enjoy a “compressed schedule,” and work either three 12-hour shifts a week, or four 10-hour days.

The LAPD is not the only law enforcement organization having trouble maintaining its ranks. The 2020 racial justice protests by Black Lives Matter and other organizations after the murder of George Floyd ignited the “defund the police” movement, and may have cast a shadow over jobs that more people previously found appealing. A article last month said factors including COVID-19 and the changing climate for law enforcement have hampered hiring across the nation. It referenced staffing challenges in police departments from Philadelphia to Seattle.

Moore said the LAPD is seeking to expand the number of applicants, and is looking at offering housing, wage or other incentives. He added that with a scarce labor market, “most organizations if not all are experiencing challenges in recruitment.”

Yet Moore pointed a bigger finger at the city Personnel Department. He said there are actually plenty of people seeking to join the LAPD, but that the hiring process is barely crawling along.

“We are in active conversations with the Personnel Department to increase the number of recruits that are being processed and qualified for entry into the Academy,” he told the Police Commission. It is the “through-put,” he added, that “is frankly too slow and taking too long.”

It’s a quagmire. Moore said that currently 33 members of the LAPD are working on supporting Personnel Department hiring efforts.

But this is not a new problem. In December, Moore related similar concerns, and told the Police Commission he had just shifted additional staff to support the Personnel Department. Somehow the clog, instead of being cleared, just got bigger.

All this plays out against a grander scale. Los Angeles politicians going back to at least Mayor Richard Riordan in the 1990s talked up the aim to get the LAPD to 10,000 officers. That plateau wasn’t hit until 2013 when Antonio Villaraigosa was mayor. Keeping staffing elevated was an issue in the 2013 mayor’s race between Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel.

The number of sworn cops stayed in five figures until the pandemic hit and city leaders briefly looked to re-allocate some funding after the George Floyd protests erupted. And it’s a topic that remains fiercely political. Activists want a smaller LAPD with money taken from policing and dedicated instead to communities and efforts to help people experiencing homelessness. The Police Protective League, the powerful union representing most LAPD officers, naturally wants more cops, and has endorsed Caruso, who envisions a department with 11,000 men and women in blue.

Given the historic staffing of the department, getting to 11,000 is probably a pipe dream, something floated to appeal to a certain segment of voters. It seems even more farfetched when just making it to 10,000 cops is drifting further away.

Ultimately, there may be more backsliding. The next Academy class begins this month, and though the figure could change, on March 1 Moore said, “at this point we have less than 30 applicants we believe will be qualified.” A moment later he added, “Right now we’re looking at a very dismal number.”