Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass recently pledged to rebuild the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), which has lost around 1,000 officers since 2019, through her new budget proposal.
Officials blame the decrease in staff numbers on a variety of factors, including retirements, resignations and difficulties with recruitment and retention.
Under her budget proposal, Bass aims to provide the necessary funds to restore the department’s ranks to 9,500 officers, which equates to 40 additional officers from the current staffing levels.
While Bass admitted that her number was a seemingly less ambitious goal than the ideal mark of 10,000 officers, she and officials agreed that it still will not be an easy feat to achieve as the department is expected to lose around 600 officers in the coming year due to retirements and resignations.
“I know that that is ambitious, but I think it needs to happen,” Bass said.
In an interview, Bass said she also hopes to increase hiring and lift barriers to recruitment to grow police ranks, among other strategies.
However, the mayor raised concerns that the accidental leaks of photographs of LAPD officers, which were provided by the department in a public records request, could lead to further resignations.
Bass said that even if the city fails to achieve this goal, she believes that setting an agenda is important.
“But I think it’s very important to set that as a marker — very important,” she said. “There’s no way I would say, ‘I want to get to 9,200.’ Again, because I’m really worried about further attrition.”
Ivette Alé-Ferlito, the executive director of La Defensa — a nonprofit that advocates for alternatives to prisons and policing — pushed back against Bass’ proposed plan.
She said the city should take advantage of the drop in police staffing by expanding the number of unarmed staff specialist who respond to individuals undergoing mental health crises or other emergencies.
“This is an opportunity to be able to start investments into alternatives to law enforcement responses,” Alé-Ferlito said.
A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents rank-and-file officers, said the group welcomed the plan to “rebuild the LAPD after years of neglect.”
“This staffing decline didn’t start with Mayor Bass. But we hope it ends with Mayor Bass,” said union spokesperson Tom Saggau, who blamed the crisis on low pay, COVID-19 burnout and low morale.
According to FBI data, other large departments such as New York City and Philadelphia have likewise experienced a drop in personnel, declining 8 and 9% respectively since 2019.
The Chicago Police Department was also hit hard, recording an 11% reduction in staff over the past several years.
Law enforcement experts pointed the finger at a shrinking labor pool and growing public scrutiny of police, as well as low morale caused by an anti-police culture.
Niles R. Wilson, senior director of law enforcement initiatives for the Center for Policing Equity, said that many officers from big city agencies are leaving to suburban departments, which offer larger pay and are safer jobs on average.
He also added that younger people see police work as having too long of hours and a high risk of injury to be considered attractive.
To compound the issue, the LAPD has been dealing with a host of challenges in recent years, including a lack of diversity and complaints about the use of excessive force.
While Mayor Bass is hoping to rebuild the LAPD, some members of the city council are advocating for the reallocation of police funds to social services.
Councilmember Nithya Raman, for example, ran on a platform that called for transforming the LAPD into a “much smaller, specialized armed force,” while Eunisses Hernandez and Hugo Soto-Martinez both argued for reducing police staff.
“Our priority is to invest that money in programs that address some of the most common 9-1-1 calls, like homelessness, mental health and drug treatment, so we can alleviate the burden on police officers and improve public safety for the community,” Soto-Martinez said.
To cope with the loss in manpower, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said the department has scaled back its specialized units.
Among the units that have been downsized include those that pursue fugitives, investigate human trafficking, as well as cold-case teams, for which they have had to bring on reserve officers.
“We’ve protected the uniformed patrol officers who head out into neighborhoods,” Moore said. “But we’ve downsized narcotics units in every area. We’ve downsized vice units in every area.”
As for other solutions, LAPD and union officials are currently in talks with the mayor to provide financial incentives to recruit and retain officers in order to compete with smaller agencies.
Indeed, officials have submitted a proposal to the City Council to offer signing bonuses of $15,000 to $20,000 to new hires.
The department has also ramped up recruiting at historically Black colleges and east coast universities to attract a wider range of talent.
Additionally, LAPD leaders are considering reviving the “bounce program,” which allows the chief to bring retired officers back for up to a year.
The program would add 200 retired officers back to the force.