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L.A. police union backs Rick Caruso for mayor, spurning Buscaino, a former LAPD officer

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The Los Angeles Police Protective League on Thursday endorsed Rick Caruso for mayor, a coveted nod for the businessman because of the union’s considerable political clout.

It represents the first major endorsement for Caruso since entering the race this month. He previously served as president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, where he maintained a good relationship with the union leadership.

“We believe that the people of Los Angeles and the members of the LAPD agree: Our approach to public safety needs to change. Rick is not a typical politician, and we believe that he can fix L.A.,” Lt. Craig Lally, the union president, said in a news release put out by the Caruso campaign.

Caruso was unanimously selected by the the union’s political action committee and board of directors. Lally said. The union represents about 9,500 rank-and-file officers at the Los Angeles Police Department.

“I’m deeply grateful to have the support of the front-line police officers in the city. We cannot reduce crime in L.A. without their contributions,” Caruso said in a statement. “I have deep respect for the city’s labor unions and look forward to working with them as mayor.”

The endorsement is a setback for Councilman Joe Buscaino, a rival in the mayor’s race and a former LAPD officer.

“The political arm of the police union made a bet against one of their own,” Buscaino said. “Public safety is the most important responsibility of a local government. Everything hinges on it. This is why I will always be supportive of the rank-and-file officers who serve and protect our city, and I know they support my candidacy for mayor.”

While Caruso, a billionaire, may not need the union’s money, the endorsement means it won’t be spent in support of an opponent.

The union’s political power derives partially from the big checks it has written to candidates. When then-Councilman Eric Garcetti ran for mayor in 2013, the union spent about $1.5 million supporting his opponent, then-City Controller Wendy Greuel.

Its relationship with the current mayor has been strained in recent years — particularly throughout the protests and civil unrest that followed the killing of George Floyd in 2020. Union leaders criticized Garcetti’s push to cut the LAPD budget, saying at the time that police officers had lost confidence in his ability to lead the city.

In the wake of Floyd’s murder, some candidates said they would no longer accept the union’s money.

The question of how big the LAPD should be has become central to the campaign messaging of several candidates.

Caruso has called for there to be 11,000 sworn officers — up from the 9,700 currently budgeted. Buscaino had said prior to Caruso’s entry into the race that he’d like to see the department grow to that size.

Buscaino had made crime and clearing homeless encampments a central part of his campaign to this point. He also has gone to great lengths to paint Caruso as anti-union, pointing out during a debate this week that he’d given to a failed 2005 ballot initiative that would have barred government employee unions from spending members’ dues on political campaigns without consent.

Caruso said in a statement that given the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, allowing unlimited corporate contributions to campaigns, he believes that unions “should have the right to use every tool at their disposal to even the playing field.”

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