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LA Police Chief Demands Strengthened Department to Improve Security - 2003-05-17

Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton is demanding that city officials strengthen his department to improve security in the West Coast city. The chief has the backing of the mayor, but the Los Angeles city council says the city cannot afford to hire new officers.

Crime is dropping in most U.S. cities, but it's up in Los Angeles. The city had more than 650 killings last year, making it the murder capital of the United States. Smaller urban areas, like Washington DC, have a higher rate of murder for their population, but Los Angeles leads in total homicides.

Police Chief Bratton, the man credited with lowering New York City's crime rate when he headed its department, wants 320 new officers to accomplish the same goal in Los Angeles.

Chief Bratton took office last October, and already, says Mayor James Hahn, the city's crime rate is dropping. "We've gotten better month by month because we've been adding more police officers. I don't want to stop and say, OK, this is good enough," he said.

Los Angeles has about 9,000 police officers, one-quarter what New York has. New York City is twice the size of Los Angeles, but Chief Bratton says, even adjusted for that, Los Angeles should have double the current number of officers to cope with urban violence. He says concentrating police in high-crime neighborhoods will allow a streamlined force, but that he needs new recruits, especially for an expanded counter-terrorism unit.

The mayor agrees, but the 15 member Los Angeles city council, which must approve all city spending, says Los Angeles faces a $280 million budget deficit and cannot afford the added expense this year. It has agreed to hire only enough officers to replace those who retire or leave their jobs. Jack Weiss, a council member, says "there is nothing more important in my view than preparing the city of Los Angeles for terrorism. But we also need to keep this city out of bankruptcy. So we have made a very simple request of Mayor Hahn show us the money."

The mayor says the money must be found for an issue as important as public safety.

Residents are looking to Chief Bratton to rebuild a police force plagued by low morale, which is under a court order to eliminate abuses by its rank-and-file officers.

Chief Bratton accuses the council members of interfering with his efforts to rebuild the department. "They're saying to me, saying to the police commission that I report to, sorry, we don't think you know what you're doing. Why don't you wait till January so we, the experts on the city council, can pick and choose to put a couple of cops here, put a couple of cops there," he says.

The mayor backs the chief, and says he will veto any city budget plan that does not include spending for new officers. Several angry council members say they have the votes to override his veto.