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27
Sat, Feb

Feet on the Street

NEIGHBORHOOD POLIITICS-Founded in 1869, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) celebrated its 150th anniversary last year.

The department’s ten thousand sworn officers and three thousand civilian employees in 21 stations are responsible for the safety of more than four million Angelenos spread over 468 square miles. 

To give some perspective, the NYPD has almost four times the number of officers to protect about eight and a half million New Yawkers. 

The following draws on discussions the Budget Advocates had in the fall of 2019 with the LAPD and the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL), the union which represents police officers in negotiations with the City as well as the safety, welfare, work environment and fair dealings toward its members. In most cases their interests overlap. 

The Pandemic 

As of April 7, over one thousand NYPD officers and civilian employees had tested positive for the coronavirus. Five of them had died. Twenty percent were out sick. 

As of April 9, about 40 LAPD officers had tested positive for COVID-19. No deaths had been reported. 

Los Angeles acted quickly to protect its residents from the virus, ordering all but essential workers to self-isolate. But the LAPD is essential to the safety of the City. 

Hundreds of detectives have been transferred to patrol functions, vacation days have been canceled, unnecessary assignments and operations have been put aside, and everyone has been assigned to concentrate on essential public safety functions. 

Furthermore, LAPD officers have been on the front lines to limit the spread of the disease among the homeless with officers at every shelter to oversee health and security issues. The department had been supporting outreach and mental health workers in the transportation of the homeless from various encampments to temporary shelters where their health can be monitored, those infected isolated, and care administered. 

While officers are already well-trained on protocols to safeguard themselves when dealing with the unsanitary and dangerous conditions common among the homeless populations -- including the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) -- the pandemic is a type of threat with which the LAPD has no experience in living memory. 

The LAPD’s Elysian Park academy has been opened as a secure location to give officers now working 12 and more hours a day the chance to relax with 24-hour security, showers, laundry services and snacks. This has been a significant relief for those concerned about potentially exposing their families if they go home between shifts. 

The pandemic has highlighted several of the critical concerns facing the department, including: staffing, training, and their work environment. 

Challenges 

In addition to the staffing and training concerns, the Department has serious deficiencies in technology hardware and infrastructure as well as safety. 

The following issues must be addressed to ensure the City can provide Angelenos with the best police protection possible: 

  • Overhauling the hiring process to improve both quantity and quality of new police recruits. 
  • Evaluating the current training metrics to improve graduation rates. 
  • Improving retention of trained officers. 
  • Expanding the civilian workforce to ensure officers’ time is focused on real police work. 
  • Enhancing the department’s IT capabilities to better handle reports and intake. 
  • Upgrading hardware: LAPD computers still operate on Windows 7 and too much equipment is reaching its end of lifecycle. 
  • Improving network security and IT infrastructure: a recent hack of the LAPD network exposed personal information of 2,500 officers and 17,500 officer applicants. 
  • Developing better communications systems, the lack of which is inherently dangerous in the life-and-death situations. 
  • Embracing 21st century technology: dictation applications to facilitate real-time reports will improve accuracy and accountability. 
  • Maintaining and adding needed equipment, from TASERs to the ubiquitous black and whites that patrol our streets. 
  • Assessing existing stations and the opening of new facilities when dictated by demographic shifts. 
  • Establishing procedures to protect the health and safety of officers, civilian staff, and detainees, specifically from diseases rampant in the homeless and immigrant populations. 
  • Installing safety-compliant plexiglass partitions to stop bullets in all police stations to protect the safety of officers and staff working the front desks -- yes, the total cost will exceed $2 million but what is the value of a human life or permanent disability or measured against even one lawsuit? 
  • Reevaluating incarceration procedures with a focus on best use of manpower to achieve optimal results. 

The Homeless 

Too much time and money has been spent on arresting homeless individuals. One homeless intake by the LAPD requires 4-6 hours. And to what end? This is not a wise use of resources. 

Homeless Outreach and Proactive Engagement (“HOPE”) triage teams with trained outreach and mental health professionals originated in the LAPD. They provide more effective wraparound services to men and women living on the street, releasing sworn officers to handle public safety issues. 

The HOPE team concept needs to be expanded and funded, but under the Mayor’s homeless initiative, drawing resources from LA County services, the Sanitation Department, the Fire department’s Fast Response Vehicles and Sober Units as well as the LAPD. 

Having to confront, arrest and process homeless and hygiene-challenged suspects in their police cars and station houses was putting officers at risk long before the current pandemic. LAPD staff were exposed to diseases ranging from typhus to antibiotic-resistant staph infections and now, COVID-19. 

Budget 

Although the overall costs of hiring new officers (e.g. benefits package plus training costs, etc.) may outweigh the total costs of paying overtime to existing officers in the short-run, the departments long-term goal should be to hire more sworn officers instead of using overtime resources.  

An immediate investment in hiring and training will cause a spike in the LAPD budget which could be initially offset by charging back personnel and training costs to the Metro, LAUSD schools, sports promoters, political rallies and celebrities through a permit system such as is used by film productions. Subsequent years’ budgets will benefit from: 

  • The reduced need for overtime. 
  • More officers being active in neighborhoods deter criminal activity before it happens. 
  • Greater staffing flexibility and resiliency in times of need. 
  • Ensuring officers are well-rested and have some quality of life away from work. 
  • Improved morale. 

Upgrades to stations and equipment, especially cutting-edge IT and technology, need to be funded; the costs should be offset by the efficiencies and improved services that the LAPD can then provide as well as significant savings in man-hours. 

The Mayor has said he would not require the LAPD to make cuts for the City’s 2020-21 budget. However, it almost certainly will not include provision for the above. The City and the department need to work outside the box to find the savings to justify needed improvements. And they need to take action.

 

(The Budget Advocates are an elected, all volunteer, independent advisory body charged with making constructive recommendations to the Mayor and the City Council regarding the Budget, and to City Departments on ways to improve their operations, and with obtaining input, updating and educating all Angelenos on the City’s fiscal management.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.