Analysis: Only 31 Recruits in LAPD's Past 10 Academy Classes

April 22, 2024
The LAPD needs to hire about 60 new officers a month to overcome the force's attrition rate of retirements and job departures, along with the agency's smaller-than-hoped-for academy classes.

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Police Department has graduated an average of 31 recruits in its past 10 academy classes, a Los Angeles Times review shows, about half the number needed to keep pace with Mayor Karen Bass’ ambitious plan to reach 9,500 officers.

The smaller-than-hoped-for classes — coupled with the number of experienced officers who are retiring or leaving for other jobs — have fueled speculation around City Hall and LAPD headquarters about whether Bass will reevaluate the department’s staffing needs in her new budget proposal, due Monday.

City officials have said they need to hire about 60 new officers a month to overcome the force’s attrition rate.

The mayor gave no timetable for her police hiring plan. But the statistics indicate that increasing the size of the force from its current 8,832 sworn officers to 9,500 is unlikely to happen soon.

Given the city’s steadily worsening financial picture, some leaders and progressive activists argue that it makes little sense to keep funding the department for staff it may not be able to hire.

A Times analysis of graduation class data and news releases posted to the department’s website found that 309 recruits graduated from the LAPD academy since July 1. In the same span, the department lost 552 officers to retirement, dismissal or resignation — with another 113 expected to leave by June 30, the end of the budget year, according to a spokeswoman.

While the figures don’t reflect every recent hire or departure, taken together they give a rough idea of the depths of the department’s staffing woes.

Interim Chief Dominic Choi acknowledged those struggles in an interview this week with NBC Nightly News, saying larger workloads have contributed to low officer morale and forced residents to wait longer for police services. Staffing shortages have also led to more officers working overtime in L.A. and other cities, further stretching budgets.

That “slippage” in response times, Choi said, was particularly evident for non-emergency calls, which have climbed from “about 20 minutes upward to 40 minutes, up to an hour.”

“I think if we had about 12,000, we would be well-staffed,” Choi said, echoing a number that former Chief William J. Bratton cited in 2002 as the minimum the department needs to properly patrol the city.

A U.S. Department of Justice study published last fall suggested that the reasons for the “historic crisis” in police staffing include an increase in public scrutiny of police conduct, high officer burnout rates and a tightening labor market since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The LAPD’s staffing struggles come at a time when cities across the country, faced with similar manpower issues, are rethinking the role that police should play.

Even with fewer officers, crime rates have declined nationwide over the past several years. So far this year, however, the number of homicides in L.A. has increased compared with the first four months of 2023, bucking a trend seen in other big cities. Other types of crime are down in Los Angeles, and Choi pointed out during his weekly briefing to the Police Commission that the rate of homicides has slowed in recent weeks.

With the Olympics and the World Cup looming as security challenges in coming years, whoever is named as the next LAPD chief— a nationwide search is underway — will be asked to shore up staffing.

Attrition numbers are down from the 2020-21 budget year, when the department lost 577 officers as hiring of police slowed amid the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd. But the academy classes have since failed to keep up with the number of officers leaving.

Commission President Erroll Southers told The Times that the department’s informational sessions for prospective recruits are always well attended. If anything, he said, the half-filled classes are more a sign of the department’s high standards than a waning interest in people wanting to join the LAPD.

“The reason we don’t have 60 recruits is because we’re not just taking anybody, so I’m OK with that,” he said. “I’m very proud of that, because that means our standards are still the same.”

At the same time, Southers said, the reality of a “slimmed-down LAPD means we’ve got to lean into these alternatives to police response.”

“There are a number of things that officers respond to that civilians could respond to, that clinicians or social workers could respond to, trained medical professionals could respond to,” he said.

The Times’ review found that the largest class to graduate from the LAPD academy since July had 36 officers; the smallest, 25. Latino recruits were over-represented compared with the city’s population makeup, while Asian American and white officers were under-represented, according to the analysis. Class sizes are up slightly from the preceding 10-month period, when the department graduated about 29 officers, the analysis showed.

During the six-month academy, rookie officers get 912 hours of training in areas such as firing weapons, defensive driving and de-escalation techniques. The application process requires a lengthy background check, which adds another challenge to staffing up, officials say.

Department and city leaders have attempted various tactics to woo recruits in recent months.

Last fall, the City Council approved a four-year package of raises and bonuses for officers that boosted the starting salary to $86,000, as well as bigger retention bonuses and other incentives. This came over objections from some councilmembers that the raises and bonuses were too expensive and would do little to address the deeper issues of why fewer people are going into policing.

The LAPD recently hired a new marketing business, using a combination of public and private funding, that is more digitally focused and will help the department “speak to a younger demographic,” officials told the Police Commission. The department is also offering monetary incentives to officers who refer recruits who make it through the academy to graduation.

Other efforts have stalled.

A plan to bring back retired officers on a temporary basis to fill vacancies has had meager success, with only a handful of retirees signing on.

Even as Bass has acknowledged that she wasn’t “super confident” the LAPD could get to 9,500 officers, her office has remained silent about whether she will change her goal. A recent report by the city’s top budget analyst said the LAPD would likely end the year with 8,908 officers — the lowest sworn deployment in more than two decades.

For some elected officials and progressive groups, the staffing shortfall presents an opportunity to put money budgeted for paying officers toward expanding positions for social services workers who could better respond to nonviolent calls involving mental illness, homelessness or substance use. The city has launched several pilot programs in recent years, but proponents say such efforts are undermined by inadequate funding.

“Spending a lot more money on LAPD has not so far yielded more recruits and increases in staffing, and what we need is a holistic alternative response,” said Councilmember Nithya Raman, one of three on the council to vote against pay raises for officers.

Raman recently prevailed in her reelection bid over an opponent who received huge financial support from unions that represent police officers and firefighters, among other groups.

A spokesperson for Bass previously said that while the mayor hasn’t ruled out cutting some of the thousands of unfilled city jobs to balance the city budget, any reductions would not impact police officers.

L.A. is hardly alone in its police recruitment woes. A recent survey by the Police Executive Research Forum found that in most places, hiring hasn’t kept up with attrition, resulting in a nearly 5% drop in total police staffing nationwide.

Lobbying for more officers has become something of an annual ritual at the LAPD, which has historically been among the country’s smallest big-city departments on a per capita basis.

The department’s staffing peaked at 10,072 for a few weeks in January 2019. It originally reached the symbolic 10,000-officer threshold, sought by past city and department leaders, in 2013, near the end of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s tenure.


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