A traffic cop surveys the city
A traffic cop surveys the city

City Leader Wants More LAPD Patrol Cars on the Streets

Westside city councilman Mike Bonin says that while the Los Angeles Police Department has 9,885 sworn officers, far too few are doing the basic and crucial cop job of patrolling neighborhoods every day and responding to calls for help.

His office says a day recorded last month saw only 311 officers on patrol during the day shift. He compared that with 1969, when there were 6,194 officers and 337 officers on the streets on an average day. The department, of course, is much more sophisticated today. Its gang, SWAT, crime suppression, anti-terror and even art theft units use badges that could be on the beat. Inspired by those numbers, Bonin wants LAPD to get back to basics and start putting more cops on the boulevards. He's expected to introduce a motion today that could lead to officer redeployment from nonpatrol duties.

"The numbers paint a clear picture of where our priorities have been, and it unfortunately hasn’t been in having patrol officers in our neighborhoods," Bonin said in a statement. "To have thousands more sworn officers in the LAPD but fewer of them in our neighborhoods shows a problem that must be corrected."

We reported in November that some department critics — including the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents rank-and-file cops — say staffing in some neighborhood divisions can get critically low, especially when officers are diverted to special events, protests and other assignments away from their everyday turf.

"I'm hearing [divisions] are having a hard time staffing black-and-whites for PM watch and morning watch," retired LAPD Sgt. Cheryl Dorsey, author of department critique Black & Blue, said last fall. "It's not uncommon for the LAPD to have detectives put on a uniform and go out in the event of a tactical situation" such as a Trump protest. "It gives the illusion that there are plenty of police."

The geographic breadth and relatively low density of Bonin's Westside council district can compound the problem, as the few cops who are on the road sometimes have to travel comparatively long distances to respond to calls. The LAPD's West Los Angeles Division is historically the department's low-crime champion, so it's often staffed accordingly.

Without pointing any fingers, Bonin's motion suggests that more badges for our streets might be found by dismantling some specialized units, directing other such units to respond to everyday 911 calls, hiring more civilians to take over desk jobs now carried out by sworn employees, and borrowing from the Los Angeles Fire Department's staffing protocol, which could include calling in off-duty cops when necessary.

The councilman's proposal asks for the department to audit its personnel in order to see if at least some of the above is possible. And he wants LAPD to review its "basic car" maps, which indicate where on the city map a particular patrol car is assigned. "The boundaries have not been redrawn in years, despite shifts in population, traffic and other factors," according to a statement from his office.

Bonin argues that adding patrol cars to neighborhoods is a basic part of the community policing ethos touted by the department for decades. "Too often, I hear from constituents that they rarely see a patrol car in their neighborhood, or that it takes LAPD too long to respond to an emergency call," he stated. "Our neighborhoods deserve better."

Los Angeles Police Protective League president Craig Lally endorses the idea of putting more black-and-whites on daily neighborhood duties. "Response times to emergency calls are getting longer due to our neighborhood policing staffing crisis," he stated. "We’ve heard enough talk. We need action now. We’re excited to see Councilmember Bonin take action and propose to put resources toward making our neighborhoods safer."

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