The Los Angeles Police Department is bigger than ever, but so far it appears a recent hiring surge has not translated into more officers on the streets, police Chief William Bratton said Thursday.The department has added about 700 officers since Bratton became chief in 2002—an expansion negated by the hundreds of officers filling clerical civilian positions that remain empty due to a civilian hiring freeze for all but essential civilian positions.
The net gain in patrol officers is “probably none at the moment,” Bratton told The Associated Press.
Bratton said the phenomenon of filling civilian positions with officers is mirrored in other departments across the country. But he appears willing to change the trend, saying he is compiling a survey to see how many officers who are filling civilian positions could be returned to the field.
The police officers’ union supports such a plan.
“What the public was told and sold on was they were going to get more officers on the streets,” said Paul M. Weber, president of the Police Protective League, the Los Angeles police officers’ union. “That’s not happening.”
The new officers have been funded by an increase in trash collection fees, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has said the money would be used to put more officers on the streets.
Bratton and Villaraigosa announced on Monday historic levels of policing in the city—close to 10,000 officers—though the chief said his department remains one of the most understaffed police forces in the country.Bratton credits his officers for the city’s seven straight years of declining crime rate, though some city officials remain critical of how the chief is using his expanded force.
Last March, City Controller Laura Chick pointed out that too many officers were getting stuck in desk jobs and should be shifted to patrolling the streets. Other officers, including detectives and watch commanders, have been placed in two new stations and others are bolstering Bratton’s counterterrorism units, the robbery homicide division and the police academy.
Bratton said he expects more patrol officers to start working the streets toward the end of next year, as new recruits complete their training and probationary periods.
He also hopes to hire hundreds of extra officers through federal economic stimulus funds and said hiring civilians into his department’s clerical positions would potentially free up hundreds of officers.
Villaraigosa spokesman Matt Szabo said the mayor was delivering on his promise of more officers.
“The bottom line is the extra officers have given the chief the flexibility to attack crime hot spots immediately and that has clearly paid off,” Szabo said.