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Possible Hiring Freeze for LAPDBy Christina VillacorteCity News Service
CNS--Faced with a $530 million deficit, top city budget officials are suggesting a possible police hiring freeze that would reduce the size of the LAPD by attrition, a concept that was denounced today by Chief William Bratton and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Councilman Bernard Parks, chair of the Budget and Finance Committee, told City News Service that the city administrative officer and chief legislative analyst are preparing a joint report on ways to reduce the deficit. It mentions the possibility of imposing a hiring freeze on the LAPD so that officers who retire will not be replaced, Parks said.
Matt Szabo, the mayor's spokesman, said he expects the report to be released either Wednesday or Thursday.
Both Villaraigosa and Bratton, who have made it their mission to increase the ranks of the Los Angeles Police Department to 10,000 officers, denounced the idea.
"I will fight it with everything I've got," Villaraigosa said of the budget-cutting proposal. "There are a lot of things we can do before we cut the Police Department. I don't intend to do that."
Bratton added: "If some city leaders think that the city somehow or another is going to be better off by reducing the size of the police force, they're crazy. They're absolutely crazy."
Bratton said the reason the city's crime rate has been dropping steadily for years is the growth of the LAPD, which currently has 9,995 officers.
In a report to the Police Commission today, Bratton said the number of violent crimes this year is down 7.7 percent compared to the same period in 2008, and 12.7 percent compared to the same period in 2007.
Meanwhile, gang-related crimes are down 9.8 percent compared to last year, and down 34.3 percent compared to 2002, when Bratton took office.
"We finally have a Police Department that's clearly showing that it can continue to reduce crime, reduce fear in the city, and improve race relations at the same time," Bratton said. "One of the benefits of having grown the Police Department and continuing to grow it is we are keeping the city safe."
However, Parks said a tentative labor deal with the Coalition of L.A. City Unions puts the city in a quandary.
Under that deal, 22,000 city employees -- including librarians, accountants, building planners and others -- will postpone collecting their salary increases until 2011, in exchange for some protection from layoffs and furloughs.
That deal also includes an early retirement incentive program, also called ERIP, which offers cash bonuses to employees who retire up to five years early.
Employees who remain on the job are supposed to pick up the tab for those bonuses by increasing their pension contributions by 0.75 percent. Actuarial studies, however, have questioned whether that amount is sufficient.
"ERIP will not pay for itself," Parks said. "What I can surmise is this: When you look at the ERIP and if that will go forward, you're basically freezing 22,000 people that would not have a layoff or a furlough.
"If you now say that the Police and Fire Departments are going to continue to hire under this scenario, then where are you going to find the funds to close down a $530 million budget deficit?"
Parks said that based on the numbers crunched by the City Controller's office, the city's deficit is growing by about $1 million a day.
"We're at a point now that we no longer can think about a position or function or department -- we have to think about the financial solvency of the city," Parks said. "As we move forward, that should be our number one goal."
The City Council plans to discuss the budget in a special meeting next Tuesday.