Police officials on Thursday stressed the need for an increase in the number of officers hired in order to offset attrition expected to take its toll on the ranks of the Metropolitan Police Department.
Chief Cathy L. Lanier testified before a D.C. Council committee on Thursday that about 250 officers need to be hired each year if the city wants to maintain the size of its police force over the next four years. The city's 2012 budget funds 120 new police officers.
But Chief Lanier opposed a bill before the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary that would mandate the city to maintain a force of 4,000 officers at all times, saying that policing requires the ability to adjust to the needs of the city.
"I don't think there is a magic number," Chief Lanier said. "I don't feel comfortable locking in a number with legislation because I think we need to be flexible."
However, she did recommend that the council look into the idea of creating a minimum staffing requirement for civilian personnel in the police department. The number of civilians has varied widely over the past several years, and establishing a base number could help to keep officers on the street by preventing the backfilling of positions by officers if civilian positions are cut, she said.
The Metropolitan Police Department currently has about 3,850 sworn officers, but attrition is expected to lower the number to about 3,700 by next summer unless significant hiring is made this year, officials said.
It takes about 18 months before a new officer is fully certified, so by the time the city does start to feel the negative effects it will be too late to adequately address the problem, said Kristopher Baumann, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police unit that represents most D.C. officers.
"We're not going to see the consequences today. We're going to see them two years down the road," Mr. Baumann told the committee.
He said the council expressed "real ignorance" of the consequences of allowing the number of sworn police officers to dwindle.
Legislators approving next year's budget voted Wednesday to move funding for new police officers further down a list of priorities to be funded if the District collects more revenue than anticipated for this fiscal year. Funding police hires was initially at the top of the contingency list but was moved to the fourth slot Wednesday.
Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, said he sponsored the legislation because he has "seen too many mayors and too many councils play with the numbers."
"If the law said we must have 4,000 police officers, then the actual budget itself would have to fund that," he said.
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