Anaheim City Council members Tuesday night unanimously approved a policy to hire 10 new police officers annually for the next four fiscal years, an initiative aimed at restoring department staffing to pre-recession levels.
Like other cities across the country, the 2007 housing market crash and economic tailspin devastated Anaheim’s budget. Tax revenues dropped and unemployment spiked. As city services were cut, the police department gradually shed dozens of officers.
Now with the economy steadily improving, city leaders’ first budget priority is swelling the ranks of its police force, which they are argue is too low for a city that has nearly 350,000 residents and, with the Disneyland Resort, is also a tourism mecca.
“We can’t bind the hands of future city councils. But we can say this is a priority for us,” said Councilwoman Kris Murray, adding that with some 26 million tourists visiting the resort district annually, the city has “tremendous demands” on public safety.
Murray said that, while violent crime is down compared to the previous year, property related crimes like burglary are up. The goal is to have 404 officers, she said.
This next fiscal year, which begins this Summer, won’t be the first time the city has added officers. Last year, council approved a budget calling for 13 new police officer hires.
Some of those officers were dedicated to community policing in the city’s working-class Latino neighborhoods, which are still struggling to trust the police department after a string of fatal police shootings in 2012 and the ensuing downtown riots of mostly Latino youth.
Mayor Tom Tait said the city has one officer per 1,000 residents, a ratio he says is woefully inadequate. Washington DC has six officers per thousand residents, he said, and residents won’t be able to enjoy the city’s amenities unless they feel safe.
“Our number one priority is public safety,” Tait said.
Councilwoman Lucille Kring said the city has some 1,100 new hotel rooms being added, an indicator that city coffers will see a windfall of new revenue. She said she wants to see the budget “stretched to the max” to bolster the police department.