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No City of Angels

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No City of Angels

Public safety and LAPD hiring are now top issues in L.A.’s mayoral election. April 6, 2022
Public safety
Politics and law
California

When it comes to public safety, size matters—which makes it a problem that the Los Angeles Police Department is notably smaller than police forces of other large American cities. According to LAPD Chief Michel Moore, the department currently employs 9,440 officers, including recruits. Los Angeles is the second-largest city in the United States, with a population of nearly 4 million, making for a ratio of 23.6 officers per 10,000 residents—significantly lower than New York, the nation’s largest city, with its ratio of 45 officers per 10,000 residents, and Chicago (third-largest), at 40 per 10,000. Violent crime in L.A. is near its highest point in a decade, creating problems for a city looking to host major events like the 2028 Olympics and potential World Cup matches in 2026.

As Los Angelinos prepare to vote for a new mayor in primary elections this June and in the general election this November, LAPD hiring has become a top policy question among the frontrunners, all Democrats of varying shades of wokeness. Congresswoman Karen Bass and current city attorney Mike Feuer—engaged in a competition for the liberal and progressive vote—have taken minor steps to pivot away from the more radical party base by indicating that they would hire 200 and 500 more police officers, respectively. Councilman Kevin de León, meantime, has held firm, pledging that he will not increase LAPD staffing.

Billionaire developer Rick Caruso, the former LAPD commissioner who changed his party affiliation to Democrat prior to launching his campaign, and city councilman and former LAPD officer Joe Buscaino are competing for moderate voters concerned about the deterioration of public safety. Both have said that they want to hire 1,500 more officers, bringing LAPD’s sworn force to about 11,000.

Though most of the candidates are campaigning on promises to put more officers on the streets, residents wouldn’t note the increased police presence or improved public safety for several years, thanks to the structural shock experienced by the LAPD in 2020, when weak-kneed politicians sided with Black Lives Matter’s defund-the-police agenda. On June 3, 2020, city councilmember and president Nury Martinez tweeted that she and three other councilmembers had introduced a motion calling for $150 million in cuts from the LAPD budget, to be reinvested into disadvantaged and nonwhite communities. The motion was a political knee-jerk reaction to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. A day earlier, L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti had been photographed taking a knee with crowds of protesters at City Hall amid chants of “Defund the police!” Garcetti’s virtue-signaling could have been a reason that the city council, notoriously slow to pass motions, decided to fast-track the measure for a full council vote during a special meeting on June 16. It passed, 11-3-1, with Councilmember Buscaino and two others voting against it.

The most grievous cut to the LAPD was the slashing in half of its police academy, from 500 to 250, to avoid the need to lay off active-duty officers. This move will continue to affect public safety for several years. Mayoral candidates can talk all they want about hiring more police, but recruits must first pass academy training, which has a failure rate of 20 percent, and new officers must pass through a 12-month field-training period before they can make arrests. Given natural attrition rates due to officer retirement, Los Angelinos won’t be getting the quick fix for public safety they desire.

The concept of defunding the police depends on the idea that money can be spent on alternatives that will reduce crime—such as social programs. But when city officials reported back to the council on how they would invest $90 million of funding previously earmarked for the LAPD, they presented few, if any, programs that would actually reduce crime. In fact, officials had earmarked most of the funds for items like tree trimming, storm-drain repair, street sweeping, curb ramps, speed bumps, and street and alley resurfacing, among other services. Many criticized the spending proposal as a “slush fund,” since most of it consisted of projects that the city should have already been performing with existing taxpayer dollars.

Facing mounting public backlash, Mayor Garcetti eventually vetoed the reinvestment proposals in December 2020, but the damage has already been done. The LAPD cuts came at a time when violence was beginning to surge, especially in black and Latino communities. According to a Los Angeles Times analysis of LAPD data, the surge in homicides over the 18-month period since the beginning of the pandemic played out almost entirely among Latino and black victims. Latinos account for 49 percent of the city’s population and 50 percent of homicide victims during the more recent 18-month period. Black residents, who account for just 9 percent of the city’s population, accounted for 36 percent of the victims. Meantime, non-Latino white people, who make up 29 percent of the city’s population, made up fewer than 8 percent of homicide victims.

With crime reemerging as a top concern, L.A. voters are not likely to forget the disastrous effects of “reimagining” public safety and defunding the police. Given a chance for a fresh start, they should weigh their mayoral choices seriously. Meantime, the LAPD has warned residents that wearing expensive jewelry in public could make them a target for thieves. As Mother’s Day approaches, some may postpone their plans to buy mom a Rolex and get her a Ruger instead.

CORRECTION: Officers pass through 12 months of field training, not 18 months, as the article originally indicated.

Photo by MYUNG J. CHUN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

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