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Doing More with Less: Policing the City of Los Angeles During a Recession

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By Sergeant Robert Gasior, Los Angeles Police Department

 

Overview of the Current LAPD

    The City of Los Angeles currently faces a nearly $200 million dollar budget shortfall (Zahniser & Reston, 2010).  The mayor has asked all city departments to review their operating budgets and make cutbacks to address and rectify the dire financial situation.  The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), with its nearly 10,000 officers, has not been spared from financial cutbacks.  Being asked to do more with less has become a recurring theme within the department.

Unlike many large metropolitan police departments nationwide that are struggling to meet their authorized force strength, the Los Angeles Police Department is succeeding in its ambitious five year effort to increase the number of officers by 1,000.  On March 2, 2008, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and then LAPD chief William J. Bratton announced that the LAPD had reached 9,895 police officersa new record for the department (Lim et al. 2009).  

    With the current financial and budgetary constraints being imposed by the city upon the police department, and other public agencies, much debate has taken place over the mayors current position on recruiting new members of the police department.  The mayor of the city of Los Angeles has stood by his commitment to hire officers to bring, and maintain, the number of sworn police officers with the police department to over 10,000.  Some members of the city council dispute the mayors logic concerning the hiring of new officers.  Bernard Parks and Jan Perry, both members of the city council, disagree sharply with the mayors position during this economic downturn.  To deal with the downturn, Mayor Villaraigosa and council members have agreed to slash payroll costs by allowing 2,400 civilian employees to retire up to five years early.  But the city's budget picture is so dire that City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana predicted 1,000 jobs would need to be eliminated, in addition to the 1,000 mentioned in Villaraigosa's letter, over the next two years to keep the city afloat.  "Our revenues are not going to catch up to the costs of our pension system and our salaries and benefits. [They're] just not," he said.  Deputy Chief of Staff Matt Szabo said hundreds of layoffs would probably be avoided if the city allowed additional employees to take early retirement.  Or they could be moved to jobs not paid for by the city's general fund, which covers basic services including public safety. City leaders would also begin looking at services that can be done more cheaply by private contractors, he said (Zahniser & Reston, 2010).

     Despite the recession, and strictly from a management perspective, the LAPDs recruiting effort has been stellar.  The LAPD is meeting its recruiting goal by working closely with a partner agency, the City of Los Angeles Personnel Department.  The personnel department performs key functions in the process.  These functions include marketing, testing and screening, background investigation, and medical and psychological examinations. Both agencies have been exemplary in their implementation of leading best practices in the field of police recruiting.  Even though the LAPD and the personnel department are on track to achieve the hiring goal, the agencies have been operating close to the margin, often meeting the quota at the very end of the month (Lim et al, 2009).  Clearly the economys effect on the private sector has influenced applicants choices toward public service careers, and the perceived stability that goes with them.

     While the citys personnel department works closely with the police department in all aspects of the application and recruiting process, it should be noted that a particular point of contention among those in law enforcement is the concession that civilian employees of the personnel department do not possess adequate knowledge and experience to perform detailed background checks on police department applicants.  This policy was also adopted as a cost saving measure to avoid paying police investigators salaries.  The lower paid civilian investigators essentially perform the same job function at a substantially lower pay scale. 

     The theme of doing more with less has become a recurring theme within the police department.  Oftentimes it has replaced discussing crime trends at daily briefings.  Overtime has been curtailed and forced days off and pay cuts are discussed not only among the rank and file, but at command levels as well.  The question must be asked:  Can a city be efficiently or effectively policed under this atmosphere?

     Despite the recession and the talks of reducing services, crime across the city is still down.  Economists and criminologists have predicted a rise in crime as the recession worsens.  The theory has been that as people lose their jobs, they will turn to crime to support themselves and their families.  This has not been the case.  According to crime statistics published weekly by the LAPDs Compstat (computer statistics) unit, overall crime is down nearly 11 percent across the city and gang crime, those crimes committed either by or involving gang members, is down 30 percent from 2009 levels.  A 2-year snapshot reveals a 12 and 29 percent drop in crime, respectively.  While the root causes are easily debatable, the fact remains that the police department continues to provide essential services while having less resources to accomplish the tasks. 

Management Practices

     The city of Los Angeles is policed by an agency comprised of approximately 9,000 officers.  These officers are divided into 21 geographic areas covering approximately 500 square miles.  According to a report published by the United States Justice Department in 2000, it is the third largest police department in the country.  It pales in comparison, however to Chicagos 13,000 officers or New Yorks 40,000 officers.  The report also cites that there are only 25 officers for every 1,000 residents and only 63 percent of the officers actually respond to citizens calls for services.  The rest are assigned to supporting functions.  At current staffing levels, the LAPD has just over 6,100 officers assigned to patrol duties.  Once regular days off, sick days, compelled days off (which will be discussed later), and vacations are factored in, deployment becomes a monumental task.  Oftentimes, 6 police officers are assigned to police an area of 50 square miles.  In addition to reduced services, safety of the police officers becomes a concern.

     In June of 2009, the city and the police department entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for its sworn employees holding the ranks of lieutenant and below.  One of the provisions of the MOU involves overtime usage and accumulation. Management is tasked, and evaluated, on its ability to manage officers use of overtime.  Currently once an officer accumulates 250 hours of compensatory time, he is forced to take time off to reduce the accumulated hours.  One can easily see how this use of forced days off can adversely affect an areas deployment. 

     The author of this paper recently spoke to 2 officers, one a member of a special unit that routinely responds to requests from officers to provide tactical services, and the other a lead homicide detective with over 20 years experience investigating murders.  Both of these officers were placed off work for two weeks to reduce their overtime banks.  Neither one is subject to recall, voluntarily or otherwise, during this period.  The author has heard similar accounts across the department. 

     In his text, Managing the Public Sector, Grover Starling defines planning as reasoning about how an organization will get where it wants to go.  He defines strategy as the pattern that integrates an organizations goals, policies, plans and programs into a cohesive whole.   Recognizing the limited resources of the police department, management has embraced the partnership with the various stakeholders within the community to accomplish its goals.  Again, Starling defines a stakeholder as any group within or outside an organization that has a stake in the organizations performance.  In the case of the police department, stakeholders are comprised of its officers, which sometimes are also residents of Los Angeles, residents, business owners and members of both public and non-profit organizations that have a stake in the successful performance of the police department.

     Good managers have understood for a long time that many forces both inside and outside their organizations can influence their abilities to achieve their goals.  The successful organization monitors its internal and external environments continuously and systematically.  Organizations that have done this have shown an ability to anticipate future changes and to make adjustments so that potential problems do not become crises (Starling, 2010).

     The partnerships with the police department and its stakeholders have taken many forms including planning meetings where all organizations collaborate to effectively reach their respective goals to the use of donations, which are closely monitored, to help acquire badly needed equipment to accomplish a mission.  This latter concept is sometimes discouraged by management, but has become somewhat necessary as financial resources become scarce. 

     The City has explored many strategies in its attempt to reduce the ever expanding deficit.  Among them is the use of unpaid furlough days for its civilian employees.  This decision has not been without problems.  As can be expected, civilian labor unions vehemently protested the use of furlough days for its employees.  The Citys position indicated that furlough was a reasonable alternative to mass layoffs.  While this may be true, it appears that layoffs are still necessary to close the budget gap.  One byproduct of the furlough plan is reduced morale and productivity of the labor force.  Can an employee be expected to perform at the same level when forced to submit to what is substantially a pay cut?  Additionally, the services the employees provide, often in support of another city entity, are now backlogged and idle. 

     City council has also discussed the use of early retirement for tenured employees.  While this too saves money, a wealth of experience is lost as senior employees leave the workforce.  Will that employee return to the city of Los Angeles when this economic crisis is over?  This author argues that the employee will take his experience to another agency, in another city which will now reap the benefits of experience garnered at Los Angeles expense. 

     The rising cost of pensions continues to plague the city as well.  As of this writing, the city is exploring modifying pension plans with reduced benefits and implementing a new pension tier for new employees.

     The effective manager working for the LAPD must balance the needs of the city against the needs of the department while keeping in mind the needs of the employee.  Each element of this pie recognizes their needs to be primary.  The manager must sort through this to reach the ultimate goal of the police department:  a society with minimal crime.

Personnel Issues

     The morale of members of the police department is always a constant concern of the effective manager.  Many of the techniques mentioned by Starling in Managing the Public Sector are ineffective for use in the police department.  While the department has effectively implemented a compressed work schedule for officers, concepts such as telecommuting and job sharing are best suited for civilian employees of the department.  The compressed work schedule, which allows officers to work 3-12 hour shifts per week or 4-10 hour shifts per week has been a huge success in boosting morale and increased retention.  Its detractors insist it turns police service into a part-time job.  This author has personally seen the benefits of this schedule as better rested, happier, more productive officers. 

     From a management standpoint, morale cannot be underestimated.  The police service is one of a few professions where success cannot necessarily be measured by productivity.  While quantifying the number of arrests an officer makes or the number of citations he issues helps to determine success, it is truly the quality of citizen contacts he makes, and the information they share that help to make the city a better place.  Simply put, a happier officer provides better service.  This reduces complaints and liability and goes a long way to promote the image of the department and ultimately reduce crime. 

     It is recognized that a police officer receives a stable salary for their services to the city.  This salary has enabled officers to live a comfortable lifestyle and provide for their families.  Discussions for reducing the budget deficit currently include renegotiating the current MOU to obtain reduced salaries for officers as well as lay-offs for junior employees and unpaid furlough days.  The effect this will have on the officer is not yet measurable but will no doubt produce unique management challenges.

     Currently the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union which represents police officers, has reached an agreement with the police department to increase the number of hours an officer may engage in off-duty employment.  Under the old agreement, officers were allowed to work 20 hours per week in addition to their regular assignment.  Now officers may work up to 30 hours of off-duty employment.  While this author appreciates the unions effort, he also questions the implications of allowing officers to engage in 30 extra hours of employment per week.  The concept mentioned above of a better rested officer may be reduced and city liability may rise if an officer makes a poor decision due to lack of rest.

Recommendations and Conclusion

     Clearly the city is experiencing a budget shortfall the likes of which have not been seen in a century.  By and large, the police department has been spared from many of the cuts experienced by other city entities.  While the city council demands across the board cuts and concessions, their salaries and perks remain untouched.  Not only does a member of the city council make nearly $180,000 per year, they use taxpayer money for eight free cars per member and each employs a personal staff of 19 to 25 people.  The combined staff of 320 people for the city council is not far from the 480 members of the White House Office Staff (Stewart, 2009).

     Perhaps a concession from the very people who are demanding cuts would allow others to be more receptive to achieving the common goal. 

     It is also recommended that hiring of new officers be temporarily halted to reduce expenditures.  Current officers can be paid overtime to compensate for any reduced personnel.  The experience of the tenured officers far outweighs having increased officers for numbers sake.  In any event, the challenges that face the city and its police department are real and will be present for some time to come.  It will require decisive leadership and belt-tightening measures by all members of the organization. 

     Can a city the size of Los Angeles be policed effectively during a recession?  Of course it canby using innovative management techniques, collaborative partnerships and hard work.    

 

About the Author
Sergeant Robert Gasior has over 17 years of law enforcement experience.  He has a BS in Criminal Justice Management and is currently completing his masters degree in Public Administration.   Currently, Sergeant Gasior is a member of the Los Angeles Police Department where he is a Sergeant II assigned as the Officer in Charge of the Foothill Area Community Law Enforcement and Recovery Unit (CLEAR).  CLEAR is a multi-agency task force designed to recover communities from the scourge of gang violence.  Among Sergeant Gasiors previous assignments was the Officer in Charge of the LAPD Mission Area Gang Enforcement Detail.  Sergeant Gasior is a former US Marine, holding the occupational specialties of Infantry and Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defense (NBC) Specialist.  His last assignment was with the 2nd Battalion 23rd Marines where he served as the NBC Chief for the Battalion.  Among his awards are the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and the Combat Action Ribbon with Gold Star.  

   

References

City of Los Angeles & Los Angeles Police Protective League (2009). Memorandum of Understanding, July 01, 2009- June 30, 2011: Author.

International Association of the Chiefs of Police (2008). The Impact of the Proposed FY 2009 Budget on State, Tribal and Local Law Enforcement. Alexandria, Virginia: Author.

Los Angeles Police Department (2009). Manual of the Los Angeles Police Department: Author.

Lim, N, Matthies, C., Ridgeway, G., Gifford, B. (2009). To Protect and To Serve: Enhancing the Efficiency of LAPD Recruiting.  Rand Corporation. Santa Monica, Ca.

Orlov, R. (January 21, 2010). Villaraigosa says no bankruptcy for the city. Los Angeles Daily News.  Retrieved from: http://www.dailynews.com/breakingnews/ci_14243142

Spagnoli, L. (2007). Home Field Advantage: As Community Populations Increase, Agencies Find Creative Ways to Stretch Budgets Without Compromising Safety and Security on the Homefront. Law Enforcement Technology. Volume 34 Issue 6, Pages 116, 118 to 125.

Starling, G. (2010). Managing the Public Sector. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Stewart, J. (2009). Jill Stewart hits $178,789 City Council Pay on KCET tonight.  Los Angeles Weekly, May 14, 2009. 

Zahniser, D & Reston, M. (January, 22, 2010). Villaraigosa plans to keep hiring cops while cutting civilian jobs. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-la-budget22-2010jan22,0,7701014.story

 

 

© 2006 - 2010 Raymond E. Foster, Leadership in Hi Tech Criminal Justice

 

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