The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) continues to grapple with a worsening staffing shortage as the number of its officers has dropped below 9,000 — a level not seen since the 1990s. City officials are striving to address the issue, with a focus on boosting recruitment, changing public perception and fostering effective leadership.
As of July 30, the LAPD employed 8,967 officers, falling short of Mayor Karen Bass’ target of 9,500 officers.
This number also lags behind the current budget’s allowance of approximately 9,300 officers. Despite a recent graduation from the police academy, where another class of officers joined the ranks, the total officer count only reached 8,995. The training process for these newcomers is expected to take several months to complete.
Because of the dire situation, a recent academy class commenced with less than half of its capacity filled.
“Unfortunately, that academy class will only have 29 recruits,” Chief of Police Michel Moore told the Board of Police Commissioners on July 25. “Our effort is to hire 60 every four weeks.”
The impact of this dwindling officer count on operational efficiency and community safety remains a pressing concern. City officials are making efforts to combat this decline in staffing, with a new employment contract recently approved that promises substantial raises of nearly 20% for most personnel, along with increased starting salaries for recruits.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing officers, hopes that these pay increases will attract new candidates and rejuvenate interest in joining the force.
The LAPD’s history of officer numbers reflects fluctuations in its growth and challenges. The department expanded to over 9,000 officers during the 1993–2001 administration of former Mayor Richard Riordan, aiming for a target of at least 10,000 officers. By 2009, the officer count stood at 9,895, yet then-Chief Bill Bratton expressed concerns that this figure was still insufficient for the city’s size and population.
Currently, however, the LAPD faces an even greater shortfall, with officer numbers below those seen in 2009. This contrasts sharply with the goals set by Mayor Karen Bass, whose target of 9,500 officers seems distant in the face of current challenges.
Additionally, the interest in joining the department has waned, as evidenced by the fact that half of the current cadet class remains vacant.
A comparison with other major cities sheds light on the gravity of Los Angeles’ situation. With an estimated population of 3.8 million, the city has approximately one police officer for every 420 residents. In contrast, Chicago and New York City, with significantly larger police departments, maintain a ratio of about one officer for every 220 residents. This suggests that Los Angeles is grappling with a severe shortage, particularly given its sprawling geographical expanse.
To address this shortage, Mayor Bass approved a contract that includes a 13% increase in officer recruit pay and 3% annual wage increments over the next three years. In a statement, Bass said she remains committed to maintaining public safety and aims to take critical action to stabilize the situation and bolster the LAPD’s ranks.
“My number one job is to keep Angelenos safe,” Bass said in a statement. “Like many major cities across America, our police department is enduring a hiring and retention crisis so we are taking critical action.”
Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villaneuva attributed a portion of this staffing gap to the broader issue of leadership and perception, contending that a hostile work environment created by city leaders’ criticism of the police since the summer of 2020 deterred potential candidates from joining the force.
However, he also acknowledged that Mayor Bass has taken positive steps to mend the city-police relationship and provide more supportive leadership.
“I think Bass gets the big picture idea…Bass supported when law enforcement took action on their own and held their own accountable. She’s making progress in the area that’s sorely missing,” Villanueva told The Center Square.