It is good news that it appears that a compromise is in the works to avoid a police hiring freeze by at least "treading water" and hiring enough cops to replace those who retire. It is critical that Los Angeles not step back from the important gains it has made in growing the police force. Imposing a hiring freeze for police officers in Los Angeles would be a terrible mistake. There is no simpler way to put it. Los Angeles has turned a corner from a city perceived to be dangerous to one that is much safer for its residents in every neighborhood.
When I served as President of the Los Angeles Police Commission, it was the moment that we hired Bill Bratton as our new police chief that this perception began to change. When he took over the police department, Chief Bratton was frank with me, the other commissioners and Mayor Hahn. He told us plainly that if we really wanted to get crime down he needed more cops on the street. Mayor Hahn made police hiring a top priority in his budgets. Mayor Villaraigosa has rightly continued that effort, making it a clear goal to add 1,000 officers to the police force. We are not there yet, but the target is in sight. Now is not the time for the City Council to flinch by freezing police hiring. The Mayor and the Chief have both made their opposition to a freeze clear. Let me add my voice to that opposition and share my reasons why:
2) Chief Bratton is leaving. His shoes will be tough enough to fill without handicapping the next chief with a hiring freeze and a shrinking police force;
3) A freeze breaks faith with L.A. residents. A huge increase in garbage fees was put in place with the explicit promise that the increased funds would be used for hiring more cops. If the City Council freezes police hiring, they should simultaneously repeal the garbage fee increase;
4) I have no faith that any hiring freeze will be "temporary." Once the city leadership gets comfortable with spending any saved dollars on other services, it will be very difficult to reverse course and begin spending the funds on police. Residents beware: once those funds are rerouted from police hiring, they may never come back (if the garbage fee is any indicator, how can we trust any commitments on how funds will be spent?);
5) All of the other goals people have for the city - better schools, stronger neighborhoods, improved business climate - are built on a foundation of public safety. Making any progress in others areas depends on a low crime rate and more cops. By going backwards on police hiring you are going backwards on all the other goals as well.
I recognize and am sympathetic to the tough decisions the City Council faces on the city's budget. Services are going to have to be cut, as is the case everywhere. I face similar challenges and decisions in my business every day. But cutting off police hiring to me would be like, at our shopping center The Grove, closing all the stores to save money on electricity. Sure it would save money, but what is a shopping center without stores? It's just as fundamental with police officers - they are basic to having a livable city. Freezing the hiring would save money without question, but at what cost to everything else the Mayor and the City Council and the community are trying to achieve? The cost of a hiring freeze is simply too high.
Rick Caruso is founder and CEO of Caruso Affiliated, and former President of the Los Angeles Police Commission