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Chief Gates Defends Civil Service in L.A.

May 04, 1985

Once again I find myself defending the Los Angeles Civil Service system and the city employees who work so diligently to provide the best possible service to the people of our city. In a letter to the editor (April 24) Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky once again attacked the Civil Service system, suggesting that politicians should be given greater control. He says he has attempted to get the voters to "modernize the Civil Service system." What he means is that he wants the kind of bossism that exists in some of the major cities in the East and Midwest. The fact that he is part of an emerging Westside political machine may be the reason he believes that this kind of change is important.

In his letter, the councilman complains that the city has gone to the private sector to conduct studies that city employees ought to do. The problem with his complaint is that it is the politicians who seek these often times expensive studies. It is a convenient way for politicians to avoid decision-making and to shift the blame to the "study" if it doesn't come out "right." Department general managers would welcome the chance to do many of thes studies and would do them well. For example, the Los Angeles Police Department has the expertise and capability of properly distributing its resources. We have the most advanced deployment techniques to be found in law enforcement in the world. That is not to say that we cannot improve--we can. And we have within LAPD the ability to do just that. But the politicians want an outside study. That is all right with me, but council members should not complain when it is they, and not the general manager, who want to go to the private sector for a study.

If the councilman wants better management for this city, then I suggest that he work to give general managers an opportunity to manage and then hold them accountable. For example, with a budget approaching $400 million, I have to ask permission to transfer $5,000 to another account. Even though I can do it within budget, I have to ask permission to hire a few extra people to handle an expected problem. I could go on and on with these ridiculous examples. It might even be well to attempt to build a team spirit among the general managers.

This councilman is notorious for doing just the opposite. Each year I suggest the kind of changes that would allow general managers the opportunity to really manage their departments. I have yet to see any movement to implement these recommended changes. The only movement has been by the politicians to grasp more control. We also need from our policy-setters some coherent direction, some vision for the future and perhaps even a goal or two.

I give you one example to show that this general manager (and I believe it would be true of other general managers) can achieve a goal if one is set and he or she is given the opportunity to perform--the 1984 Olympics. It was the city's goal to provide a safe, secure environment for all its guests, to achieve a traffic flow unprecedented, and to protect the remainder of the city at the same time. The Police Department was given this clear objective. We were given the opportunity to succeed or fail. The budget was set and the politicians did not interfere. We succeeded and added a special ingredient to achieve excellence. Under the stress of long hours, hard work and the high potential for violence, we managed to be the friendliest police department ever.

Thank God for the voters of Los Angeles. Five times they have rejected the politicians' desire to seize more control. So I say to this councilman, if you want general managers to manage, give them the opportunity to do so. Give them a vision and an objective and I assure you they will get the job done. We humble civil servants, believe it or not, are committed to excellence.


Chief of Police

Los Angeles

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