It took almost 25 years since a L.A. Councilman said he wanted 10,000 officers on the force before it was reality. But now, the goal has been reached. And though the Mayor says it’s his effort to reach this “magic number” that has held crime rates at their lowest since the 1950s, others say it’s just a waste of money.
According to the LA Times, the 10,000 number was just chosen out of a hat, so to speak, when former councilman Zev Yaroslavsky said it in 1989. Then, it represented an increase of more than 25%. It took about 25 years to reach the dreamed-up number, but at the beginning of 2013 Mayor Villaraigosa claimed victory.
The problem is that along with an increase in cops comes an increase in costs. Police costs are up 36% to more than $2 billion over the last eight years. This marks a growth rate twice that of discretionary spending overall.
With such an exorbitant price tag, one has to ask if the increase is having positive effects. And that’s where opinions diverge.
Criminologists have never agreed on whether or not increased police forces are enough to decrease crime. Sure, crime has fallen exponentially since the police force has been growing, but it’s fallen elsewhere too, in cities where police forces remained relatively constant—some of them even downsizing.
How many cops does it take to make a city safe? There’s no consensus. As an illustration in the LA Times shows, despite the 10,000 cops, Los Angeles only employs 2.5 police officers per 1,000 citizens. In contrast, D.C.’s Metro Police employs 6.7 per 1,000; New Orleans has 6.5 cops per 1,000 citizens, and Chicago has 4.7 for every thousand people. These cities are known for their crime rates and they have significantly more police officers than we do, per capita.
Mayoral candidates hoping to steal Villaraigosa’s spot say the increased police force is working and have even talked about further growth. But this isn’t surprising considering a “tough” stance on crime is usually eaten up by voters. However, not everyone is convinced.
Even former councilman Yaroslavsky says further growth at this juncture would be a major mistake:
“If the Police Department does not lose any officers over the next few years, during this time of economic hardship, it’s because the rest of city services have been eviscerated,” said Yaroslavsky. “I don’t think it’s sensible to say that we cannot cut the Police Department by even one position.”