Mayor: Police Hiring Remains on Track Despite Budget Woes

Citing a continuing decline in violent crime, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Thursday again rejected calls to slow the pace of hiring new police officers because of a multimillion-dollar deficit and potential layoffs.

Increasing the size of the Los Angeles Police Department has been a centerpiece of Villaraigosa's time in office, and since he has been mayor, about 1,000 more police have been hired.

Beefing up the force has largely been financed through increases in the monthly fee Angelenos pay for trash removal, which has gone up twice in three years -- more than tripling from $11 to $36.32.

As of March 2, the city had 9,895 officers, which is the most in LAPD history.

Police Chief William Bratton credits the increase in officers for a decrease in the city's crime rate.

So far this year, there have been 91 homicides in the city, compared to 137 during the same time last year. The number of rapes has dropped from 264 last year to 248, robberies declined from 4,193 in the first four months of 2008 to 4,093 this year, and aggravated assaults declined from 3,968 incidents to 3,668 this year.

Gang-related crime is down 7.16 percent this year compared to last year.

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Even as the city faces a $530 million deficit and layoffs -- earlier this week the council authorized the Personnel Department to begin the process of eliminating 1,600 positions -- Villaraigosa said the LAPD will remain on track to increase its ranks to more than 10,000officers.

"Though the critics may call for a change, though some may want us to stop our public safety effort in its tracks, it is absolutely critical that we not back down," Villaraigosa said. "We refuse to quit and we reject the calls to scale back on our ambitions in the name of a little temporary budget relief."

The chief said the crime rate can still go lower, and likened the hiring plan to auto racing.

"When you've got this momentum going, you don't want to be in the Indy 500 and be on your 485th lap, close to victory ... and then all of the sudden pull in to a pit stop," Bratton said.

Members of the council's Budget and Finance Committee finished their deliberations on the proposed $7.04 billion budget earlier this week in a session that lasted until midnight. The proposed cuts and fee increases will be presented to the full council next week, but much of what the mayor's office has proposed depends on cooperation from city unions.

City and union officials have been in ongoing talks to hammer out a plan that cuts wage increases and benefits while minimizing layoffs.

The Executive Employee Relations Committee rejected an early retirement plan proposed by the unions because it would be too costly and negatively impact municipal services, Villaraigosa said.

"My hope is that everybody will understand these are unprecedented economic times, a historic deficit of a magnitude we've never seen. It's going to require every one of us pitching in and working together," Villaraigosa said.

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