L.A. Applauds More Police But Funding Is Uncertain

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WHILE Los Angeles buzzes with the threat of violence after the reading of verdicts in the Reginald Denny beating trial, details of a controversial and costly plan to hire thousands of police officers are finding some public acceptance.

``Project Safety L.A.,'' the fulfillment of new Mayor Richard Riordan's key campaign pledge to increase the number of police, was unveiled last week. Mayor Riordan and Police Chief Willie Williams followed up the announcement by stumping for the idea in several communities.

``I must admit that in the current climate I'm inclined to get behind this,'' said San Fernando Valley resident Gertrude Riblett, after hearing Riordan speak to a gathering of 400 residents and business people in Studio City. Though the plan has won immediate applause in most corners for increasing the current 7,600-officer force to about 9,700, it has been heavily criticized for failing to discuss funding. Public backing is considered critical in the search for hundreds of millions in funds.

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Starting in the current fiscal year, the plan calls for a 70 percent increase in officers assigned to the streets. It relies on officer overtime and holiday ``buy backs'' - paying officers to come in on days they would usually have off. In the next two years, sharp increases in officer hiring would follow. Civilians would be used to free up hundreds of office-bound officers. The plan also calls for curbing department attrition and recruiting trained officers from other police departments.

The new figure of 9,700 officers falls well short of a major pledge by Riordan that he would not seek reelection if he failed to expand the force by 3,000 officers. But by utilizing a new concept of so-called FTE (full-time equivalent) positions, Riordan's plan claims the equivalent of an 11,935-officer force by 1997-98.

Riordan says he will not identify specific funding sources until he completes next year's city budget in the spring. That budget is estimated to be $200 million in the red, even without the police expansion.

City Councilman Marvin Braude, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, estimates the plan's cost at $300 million over five years, a sum too high to meet without new taxes.

City Councilwoman Laura Chick estimates the price tag at closer to $1.2 billion and Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, considered the council's leading budget expert, says, ``I'm not optimistic [Riordan] is going to find the funding.''

At a separate meeting with reporters in Woodland Hills, Riordan said his office is looking at reorganizing city government and hopes to find the money by cutting waste. He predicted that a high percentage of the funds could be squeezed from city programs and agencies long influenced by special-interest groups, lobbyists, and ``airlines who have had it all their own way.''

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