In a decision hailed by police union officials as a major victory, a city hearing officer on Friday recommended the reinstatement of a controversial policy allowing members of the Los Angeles Police Department to seek binding civilian arbitration when transferred or disciplined.
Lionel Richman, a hearing officer representing the city's Employee Relations Hearing Board, concluded that Los Angeles officials acted in bad faith last year when they overturned the policy in drafting a new police labor contract. Richman recommended that officials return to the bargaining table with representatives of the police officers' union.
The Employee Relations Board is scheduled to meet in September, when it will vote on whether to enact Richman's recommendations. The board does not usually overturn the findings of its hearing officers.
'Rights of Police Officers'
"This case goes to the rights of police officers and their ability to counter the chief's sometimes arbitrary decisions involving transfers, promotions, the terminations of probationers and acts of discipline," said attorney Robert Loew, who represents the Los Angeles Police Protective League. "This helps balance things out--the chief isn't as omnipotent. It's a big, big win for us."
Chief Daryl F. Gates has said--and the City Council and Police Commission have agreed--that his ability to effectively discipline officers has been threatened by the prospect of binding arbitration.
League records show that 86 police officers have gone outside the department to arbitrate various grievances, including transfers and promotions, since 1975. Fifty-four were officers who had been disciplined in some way; 31 of those prevailed after taking their cases outside of the department.
It has been only in the last two years that Los Angeles police officers have been allowed to arbitrate disciplinary matters. That right came about after a broadly interpreted California Supreme Court decision involving a Los Angeles officer, Henry Quan, who had received a 10-day suspension after failing to respond to a robbery victim's request for assistance. Quan was on a lunch break at the time. The court ruled that Quan was entitled to go outside the department in appealing his suspension.
'Change . . . Never Intended'
"It led to a change in the scope of the grievance process that we believe was never intended," said Frederick N. Merken, senior assistant city attorney. "What the (Police) Department and (City) Council did was trim back or narrow the scope of grievance; to take discipline out, but also admittedly to take out other things that were there before Quan--transfers, promotions, promotional exams, probationary terminations and the like."
Merken said he doubted that resuming negotiations would remedy the differences of opinion between the city and the police union regarding the right to arbitrate matters of discipline.
"There's absolutely no reason to believe that a return to the table is going to resolve this," Merken said. "It is a matter that has been discussed ad nauseam. "
However, George V. Aliano, president of the league, was more optimistic, suggesting that the union might drop its demand over the right to arbitrate disciplinary issues if police officials reinstituted arbitration on such matters as transfers and promotions.