Mayor Villaraigosa proposes to merge LAPD with city’s public safety workers

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Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has a goal of adding 1,000 officers to the Los Angeles Police Department, but he has a slight problem – a $485 million municipal budget shortfall. As a stepping stone towards his staffing goal, the mayor is in talks with the City Council about allowing the LAPD to assume command of 253 employees of the city’s General Services Department.

Villaraigosa’s proposal is to add 100 sworn General Services police and 153 unarmed civilian security officers – currently charged with the tasks of protecting parks, libraries and other city property – to the LAPD roster.

L.A.’s budgetary woes have led to more than a hiring freeze for the City Council. Officials have also been encouraging hundreds of employees to retire early. With fewer civilians at the LAPD, some 100 field officers have been called off the streets to man desks. The LAPD employee union projects the number of filled civilian positions for the force to lag 1,100 behind the 4,000 authorized in the current year’s budget, fiscally ending June 30.

The mayor’s deputy chief of staff, Matt Szabo told the LA Times, “We believe we can save on duplicative administrative costs by looking to consolidate the city’s public safety functions within LAPD.”

According to Councilman Dennis Zine, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck has plans for “additional bodies,” saying the plan could help keep the LAPD Metropolitan Detention Center running smoothly.

The City Council has agreed to maintain a police force of 9,963 officers, but serious doubts loom amongst members over the city’s ability to hire any more next fiscal year.  Mayor Villaraigosa’s hopes of 10,181 sworn officers by 2010 – a 2005 campaign pledge – have already been dashed.

Complications are likely to emerge as the Coalition of L.A. City Unions, who oversee General Services security officer workers, will have to sign off on any consolidation. An attorney for the coalition has already expressed concern over the differing roles of policing and providing security for city property. An attempt to turn security officers into law enforcement personnel, not under the authority of the Office of Public Safety, will not invoke cooperation.

Michael Robertson, president of the Los Angeles General Services Police Officers Association, has made it clear that his union might oppose any merger which does not address an apparent benefit gap between LAPD and General Service police officers.

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