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Police Union Says Anti-Trump Protests Showed LAPD Is Understaffed

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In the days following the election, thousands took to the streets of downtown to protest the election of Donald Trump. There were, certainly, a number of takeaways to be absorbed from the demonstrations. For the Los Angeles Police Protective League, however, the focus was on police staffing, or, in their opinion, a lack thereof.

The LAPPL, a union of police officers, said in a recent statement that the protests showed that the LAPD is dangerously understaffed. "LAPD officers were completely overwhelmed by the number of protesters," wrote Craig Lally, president of the LAPPL. The statement noted that, on November 9, only three LAPD motorcycle units were dispatched to prevent "hundreds" of protestors from going onto the 101 freeway. One officer later told the LAPPL that a request for backup was not fulfilled until 30 minutes after the call. Then, on November 10, a plainclothes LAPD officer was "viciously beaten" while trying to arrest a suspect who was allegedly vandalizing the Police Administration Building. Lally said that only 3 plainclothes officers were assigned to guard the building that night.

These statements were put in a letter that was sent on November 14 to L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin. The League is requesting that Galperin conduct an audit on the LAPD to ascertain the department's staffing situation.

"Where are all the officers working? What are they assigned to? What is the true staffing level at any given point? This is not something that has been presented as a clear picture," Dustin DeRollo, a spokesperson with the LAPPL, told LAist. He says that, before the anti-Trump protests, the union was already hearing anecdotal evidence from officers who say that calls for assistance were not met in a timely fashion. The LAPPL also believes that, in the past years, police divisions have had trouble meeting their quota of "basic A cars," or patrol vehicles with two officers. As DeRollo explained to LAist, each police division, at any time, has a set number of basic A cars that are each assigned to a certain region of a neighborhood. The Hollywood Community Police Station, for instance, should have eight cars on patrol at all times. The LAPPL believes that the divisions have not been meeting those criteria. "I'm hearing from my cohorts that staffing [basic cars] just for routine patrol is problematic," retired LAPD Sergeant Cheryl Dorsey told LA Weekly.

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DeRollo also notes that the response time has increased for "priority two" calls, which aren't top priority calls but may still involve a dangerous element such a prowler who is caught peeping through a household's window. He says that the average response time, city-wide, is about 20 minutes for these cases, which is more than a two-minute increase over the past five years. The LAPPL says this may be the result of an understaffed police department.

It's the anti-Trump protests, however, that has recently driven home the point for the LAPPL. According to the letter sent to Galperin, "the public and frontline deserve to know if LAPD is truly prepared to handle major events, whether it be a large-scale protest, a terrorist attack or even hosting the Olympics." The scope of the protests "created a demonstrable need for a larger police presence," said DeRollo.

How many officers should a city have? That's a hard question to answer, as different variables come into play. They include the size of the city's population, and as well as the fact that, in L.A., there's more terrain to cover when you're going from one spot to the other.

The magic number for L.A., it seems, has been 10,000 officers. As noted by LA Weekly, this was the number that former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had promised during his term. The figure was echoed in an announcement of the City's budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year. According to city documents, one of the key goals in this year’s budget is to strengthen "our public safety workforce by hiring 525 police officers to reach our goal of 10,000." The city said that it is putting $14.8 million towards accomplishing this goal.

L.A. has, apparently, been meeting those goals or, at least, has been close to meeting them. The LAPD says that, as of November, there are 9,885 sworn officers in its department. And the website Governing said in a review of 2012 statistics that L.A. has about 24.9 officers per 10,000 residents. This puts them above-average when it comes to staffing. By contrast, San Diego has 13.5 officers per 10,000, and Las Vegas has 20.9.

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DeRollo says that numbers can be misleading, however. Speaking on the LAPD's estimate of 9,885 sworn officers, DeRollo said that it may include officers who are off-duty because they're injured, or officers who are performing desk duties rather than going out on the field (the LAPPL, it should be noted, represents rank-and-file officers). And while the LAPD may be adding 525 officers this year, that doesn't take into account that 425 officers are retiring or leaving for other reasons, said DeRollo.

"We should at least know, in general, what the resources we have, and where they're being allocated. We should also know where we're short," said DeRollo. "Nobody really has that information."

We reached out to Mayor Eric Garcetti, Galperin's office and the LAPD but no one was immediately available to comment on the matter.