Two City Council members this week each put forward proposals to expand the ranks of the Long Beach Police Department.
Councilmember Rex Richardson has proposed adding 25 positions for bicycle officers, building on pilot programs in the Washington Neighborhood and North Long Beach where the LBPD had officers get out of their cars and spend time walking the neighborhoods in an effort to build trust and drive down a spike in shootings.
Councilmember Suzie Price proposed finding a way to fill vacant jobs in the department’s traffic enforcement ranks, which is budgeted for 22 full-time officers including sergeants but currently only has six officers and one sergeant.
The City Council discussed both options Tuesday night, but answers about whether Long Beach will pursue either one will likely arrive after the city budget is publicly released in a few weeks.
Richardson and Price are both running for mayor. Their proposals to staff up the LBPD come after more than 41% of registered voters said they believed crime in the city had increased “a lot” in the past year, according to a recent survey from Cal State Long Beach.
“We need to do all we can to just remember what the first six months of this year looked like and how we need to continue to invest in public safety,” Richardson said.
LBPD statistics show crime is up 9.1% through May, driven mostly by thefts and commercial burglary. Violent crime is up just 4.6%, driven mostly by an increase in robberies. Many other big cities saw steeper increases, such as Los Angeles, where violent crime is up almost 8% this year. The numbers are still well below the violence of the 1990s—when Long Beach could record over 100 murders per year—but they have rebounded since 2017 when the city saw record-low crime with 22 murders. The LBPD recorded 18 murders through May this year, the most recent statistic available.
It’s not clear how much adding 25 bike officers, as Richardson requested, would cost. Officials could use overtime dollars or even more structural general fund revenue to pay for the additional personnel.
City Manager Tom Modica said that there is an element in his proposed budget that would increase this type of patrolling but declined to go into specifics because the budget is still being reviewed by Mayor Robert Garcia before being released in the next few weeks.
The LBPD routinely eats up the largest chunk of the city’s discretionary spending. In 2022, the department’s $262 million budget accounted for about 42% of the general fund.
Currently, the LBPD is budgeted for 803 officers but has only 740 due to a number of issues including injuries, leaves of absence and deployments to the military, according to LBPD Chief Wally Hebeish.
He said divisional commanders could assign more officers to bike patrols or to the traffic division—as Price wanted—without any changes to the budget, but they haven’t because the department’s primary focus is calls for service and responding to emergencies.
Price asked the city to look into things like signing bonuses or other kinds of incentives to draw more officers to the department and keep them there so the city can better enforce speeding laws, prevent driving under the influence and stop illegal street takeover events that have popped up across the city recently.
Specifically, Price wants the city to hire more drug recognition experts, cops that are trained to detect when someone is under the influence. The department currently has six that can respond to traffic incidents with potentially three more on the way.
“Other officers can opine, but the testimony of a [drug recognition expert] in court if drugs were a factor can really only be done by a [drug recondition expert],” said Price, who is a deputy district attorney in Orange County.
Both proposals are expected to be discussed by the council’s Budget Oversight Committee, which typically hosts a handful of public meetings prior to the council’s adoption of the fiscal budget in September.
Regardless of whether the council approves either plan, new officers could be on the way for Long Beach. Modica said Tuesday that the city plans to have three police academies in the coming year. Academies help replaces officers lost to attrition, transfers and retirements, but they can also allow the department to fill positions that have sat vacant.