In America’s second largest city, our dedication to public safety must be a commitment second to none. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s 6.7 billion-dollar budget for the City of Los Angeles, unveiled in April, reflects this priority.
With its emphasis on expanding the Department, the proposed 2006/2007 fiscal plan would allocate funds to begin the expansion of the Department by 1,000 additional police officers, purchase state-of-the-art police equipment, make technology improvements, and communication enhancements. Planned funding would come from an increase in the City’s trash collection fees, currently one of the lowest in the county.
The 1,000-officer build-up begins with the hiring of 650 new officers, to replace retiring officers, for fiscal year 2006/2007. This sets in motion a five year hiring plan to reach the mayor’s goal of 1,000 additional officers.
Recognizing the correlation between state-of-the-art equipment and technology, and safe and effective policing, $31 million has been budgeted to continue the Department’s vehicle replacement program, $5.2 million for new vehicles, and $5.2 million to replace two helicopters. Two other replacement helicopters are scheduled to be delivered later this year. The budget also includes $4.4 million for standard technology replacement and to provide field officers with immediate access to other agency databases using wireless data cards. Additionally, $5 million has been allocated from the year-end 2005/2006 budget to begin the replacement of police portable radios over the next several years.
I believe one of the most important allocations in the Mayor’s budget, and a clear testament to his commitment of support for the men and women of this Department, is the funding he has earmarked for the installation of video cameras in patrol cars. Using money proposed in the 2006/2007 budget, there would be enough funding to install in-car camera systems in four geographic Areas next year. The Cameras will, in effect, improve accountability, ensure the highest levels of officer integrity and provide concrete evidence for investigations into alleged misconduct. These video cameras will be an officer’s strongest ally against false or erroneous complaints. You have often heard me say, “you can expect what you inspect.” To that end, and to continue our policy of transparency and accountability, the budget provides more funding for the Office of the Inspector General and the Civil Rights Integrity, Audit and Force Investigation Divisions.
In addition to increased funding as a means to expand our ranks, the command staff and I are always looking for innovative ways to maximize the limited resources we have. One new program with a mission to reduce crime and improve relations with our communities, is the recruit footbeats. Recent media reports prove the program is working; crime is down in the areas where the recruits walk and those who live and work in the city now feel they have a better relationship with the LAPD. The program also benefits the recruits by giving them hands-on experience and face to face contact with residents and business owners in community policing. This kind of innovative thinking and intelligent deployment continues to help in driving down crime in Los Angeles, and reducing fear. In the future, we will see even more positive results as we hire more officers and step up police presence on our City streets.
While on patrol, whether walking or driving, there are two officer safety issues that have come to my attention that I feel need to be addressed. Regarding ballistic vests, a special order is in the works that will require sworn personnel to wear body armor at all times while engaged in uniform field duties. The order will not apply to officers in administrative positions, but will impact civilian personnel assisting in preplanned tactical operations and during potentially violent situations in the field. These will include audio-visual technicians, forensic print specialists, photographers, criminalists, and police surveillance specialists, among others.
In reference to auto accident injuries, in 2005, there were close to 400 minor to moderate traffic collisions involving officers on duty in patrol vehicles. In 21 of those incidences, officers violated Department policy by not wearing seatbelts. Remember, it is statistically more likely for officers to be killed in a traffic collision than in an officer involved shooting. Though at present, a majority of our officers are compliant regarding seatbelt use, it is crucial that we achieve 100 percent compliance. While I understand that from a tactical standpoint there may be some instances where you may not always be able to buckle up, I expect you to wear your seatbelt when performing your usual day-to-day duties. Not only is this an officer safety issue, but also an integrity issue. As law enforcement professionals granted the power to cite offenders of the State’s seatbelt law, we must also lead by example. (I should note that I am aware of the fold down armrest issue in the new Crown Victorias and we are working to address correcting that problem as quickly as possible).
On the issue of responsible policing, I want to again remind everyone that Department databases that offer highly sensitive information, including Department of Motor Vehicle and criminal history records, are to always be used in a professional and ethical manner. These resources are meant to facilitate prosecution in criminal cases. They are not resources for other employment interests or personal use. Accessing these databases for anything other than Department-related business is against Department policy, and may be against the law as well. Let me be very clear, if you are caught accessing information that is in violation of Department policy, you will face severe disciplinary action, and possible criminal prosecution.
During a recent meeting with senior staff, it came to my attention that penalties for the damage or loss of critical equipment such as radios and firearms were either unduly severe or extremely lenient. As a result, we are now working to differentiate degrees of penalties based on the potential for harm and monetary worth of the item, as well as negligent considerations. So, anticipate more serious consequences, including a minimum of five days suspension, if you damage or lose radios or your duty weapons.
Finally, the Department has begun installing 1,550 Dell Mobile Data Computers or MDCs in patrol and traffic vehicles, including hybrids. The notebook computers will replace the Mobile Digital Terminals (MDT). Though we had hoped to finalize installation by March, technical issues delayed this goal. We are now back on track. In April, the entire fleet of patrol vehicles in Southeast Area had the computers installed; southwest Area followed. MDC installation is expected to continue in other Areas through July. For the first time Gang and Motor units will have these devices.
Through improved technology, increased staffing and creative use of resources we continue to prove crime can be driven down even more. But the bottom-line to making Los Angeles an even safer city is you, and your commitment to leading by example. We have a golden opportunity to build upon our successes of the past several years, make changes for the better internally and build bridges of trust with our communities. During this next fiscal year, if approved by the City Council, the budget will finally give us more of the tools we need to reach the tipping point and make Los Angeles the safest big city in America. I have no doubt that the men and women of this Department, given the proper resources and support, will seize the opportunity.