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File photo: Police patrol outside Staples Center after Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics 83-79 to win the 2010 Wins NBA Championship on June 17, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.
The Los Angeles police union is asking the city to stop hiring new officers and to fill in gaps by paying existing officers for overtime, according to the Los Angeles Times. Police Chief Charlie Beck and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa say that's a bad idea.
Police union members are angry that officers have lost overtime pay due to the city's budget crisis.
The police union had previously been calling for the city to add more officers, but are now saying the department should be shrunk. It wants current members to get the overtime they're now losing.
Officers sometimes show up for work and are told to go home because they have too much overtime. Union leaders have been getting an earful.
Officers sometimes get comp time instead, but it's limited. Overall, officers are getting less pay and less comp time.
Los Angeles's recent police hiring hasn't been to add to the force, but to replace those retiring or leaving the force for other reasons. This hiring to attrition is the result of a deal Mayor Villaraigosa struck with the City Council.
The LAPD union president told the L.A. Times that the department is already losing officers on the street, as the loss of overtime means losing the equivalent of officers on patrol. The LAPD has had to shift officers around to cover for the loss of overtime.
The union has suggested one way toss brink the department – filling in civilian desk job positions currently being filled by sworn officers with civilians.
Chief Beck doesn't like the idea of shrinking the department. To stop hiring and stop police academy classes would only save the department a couple million dollars, and when the economy improves, Beck says it would be more complicated to ramp back up at the police academy and begin training more officers. Beck wants to keep the number of sworn officers at the current number.
While the number of equivalent officers on the streets is down due to the reduction in overtime, Beck says that there are still close to 10,000 sworn officers ready to throw into service when needed, which he wants to maintain.
The police union is a huge political player with powerful influence at City Hall and with the City Council. City Council members need the union's support to get re-elected, or when termed out, to run for future offices.
Villaraigosa wanted 10,000 police officers, but it didn't happen due to budget troubles. However, the number has risen from around 9,000 to close to 10,000, and more officers have been a big part of crime in Los Angeles going down.
Villaraigosa has staked his political career on maintaining the police department. Beck has enjoyed a good relationship with the union; this may be his biggest test.
Mayor Villaraigosa and Chief Beck are going head to head with the union, with the City Council in the middle.
Ultimately, the City Council will decide what happens when they go through budget negotiations. They will have to decide whether to keep hiring police officers while dealing with an expected $300 million budget deficit. The mayor could veto their budget, but the City Council can override that veto.
The union is following their top priority: protecting its current membership.
Signs do not point toward a strike. Strikes by public safety groups can be difficult, as courts can step in to stop them.