The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is expected to re- assign a number of officers from stations throughout the city, including the Pacific Community Police Station, to help staff two new stations early next year, sparking concerns by some local residents that the shifting of patrols is occurring after a reduction of crime in their neighborhoods.
LAPD Chief William Bratton said the department plans to re-direct some officers from police stations, including Pacific and West Los Angeles, to cover staffing positions at new stations scheduled to open next month in the West Valley and Koreatown. The police chief explained the department’s restructuring plan to Westside residents during a town hall meeting organized by City Councilman Bill Rosendahl in West Los Angeles Thursday, December 11th.
While Bratton reiterated his belief that the city does not have enough police officers, he noted that crime has continued to drop in Los Angeles since he took over as chief in 2002.
“Crime is down dramatically in this city, in all categories,” Bratton said.
The chief commended the work of his officers in helping to cut crime, noting that the average response time for incidents in the West Los Angeles area is seven minutes, but he said the city continues to be understaffed with police.
“[The officers] have been doing an extraordinary job,” he said, “but there are not enough of them and there never have been enough of them.”
The department currently has more than 9,800 police officers and is expected to add another 1,000 over the next three years, putting the total staffing levels to over 10,000 by 2010, after attrition is factored in. Approximately 350 officers are currently being trained in the police academy but they will not begin serving until next year, Bratton said.
When the LAPD opens the new stations in the West Valley and Koreatown in January, it needs to have a total of 150 officers staff the two stations, forcing the department to take some officers from all but three of the current 19 stations, department officials said.
According to LAPD crime statistics, Part 1 crime, which includes homicide, rape and robbery, has decreased 4.6 percent in the Pacific area since last year and 47.7 percent since 2002. While overall violent crime has declined, homicide has increased 66.7 percent in Pacific Area since last year, with 11 incidents reported this year, according to the LAPD figures.
Property crime, including burglary, grand theft auto and other thefts, has dropped 4.7 percent in the Pacific Area since last year and 32.6 percent since 2002. The West Los Angeles area has also seen a 59.6-percent drop in Part 1 crime since 2002 and a 23.9-percent decrease in property crime during that same time.
With the crime reduction over the last six years in both the Pacific and West Los Angeles Areas, some residents of those communities have voiced concerns that officers are being removed because there is less crime than in other parts of the city. Having fewer officers in the area could have an impact on the crime rate, some believe.
“I think it’s great that crime is not as bad but I’d hate to see it turn around and go the other way,” former Mar Vista Community Council chair Tom Ponton said. “The more police we have on the streets the better off we are.”
Referring to the reorganization plan as “harvesting” officers, Bratton said the shifting of patrols is not targeting any specific area and “is being shared by everybody.” The specific number of officers that will be lost under the plan from the Pacific Community Station, which covers areas such as Westchester, Venice, Mar Vista, Playa del Rey and Del Rey, has not yet been determined, said Capt. Joseph Hiltner, the station’s commanding officer.
Hiltner also explained that the stations are shifting officers in an effort to accommodate staffing of the two new stations.
“It’s simply a growing pain we need to go through in an effort to make all of the police stations more manageable and to do a better job policing those areas,” Hiltner said.
Rosendahl said that while his 11th Council District has seen a decrease in crime and may not experience as many violent incidents as other parts of Los Angeles, the district still has its share of serious crimes.
“We do have homicides and violent situations, but not to the proportion and stats of other parts of the city,” said Rosendahl, who has supported expanding the LAPD staffing levels to more than 10,000.
The councilman acknowledged that the LAPD has directed resources to address issues in the district, such as placing additional officers at Venice Beach during the summer.
“We know that there is some sensitivity to what our district is comprised of,” Rosendahl said.
Some residents at the town hall meeting praised the efforts of the LAPD in cutting crime with limited resources but said they were not convinced that officers should be taken away from the Pacific and West Los Angeles areas because crime does exist there.
“I believe we’re served by some very dedicated people but you can only ask people to do so much with their time,” Del Rey Homeowners and Neighbors Association president Chris Nevil said. “There’s a significant gang element in Del Rey and it needs constant attention through efforts like intervention, which is what the police do. I don’t think we can afford to be without that protection.”
Venice Neighborhood Council president Mike Newhouse said he also has some concerns with the LAPD plan and that the city needs to consider ways to not only keep the staffing levels of stations where they’re at but increase them.
“The whole Westside has become a lot safer in the last ten years and one of the main reasons is because the LAPD is doing a great job,” Newhouse said. “The best way to guarantee that it keeps getting safer is not only to keep the officers that we have but to get more officers.”
After LAPD officials discussed the reorganization plan to staff the new stations, some residents at the town hall meeting questioned the department’s need to open the stations at this time, given the staffing issues.
“Why would you open the stations just because they’re built if you don’t have the personnel?” West Los Angeles resident Jay Handal asked the LAPD executives.
Bratton responded that the cost to not open the stations now would be greater than to shift the officers from other stations.
Although residents have expressed some reservations with the loss of officers from their areas, Bratton pledged to the town hall audience that the department will continue doing its best to keep the communities safe.
“We will continue to make this city safe,” Bratton said.