Saying they felt underpaid and under-appreciated for what they've done to reduce crime, Culver City police officers set up picket lines this week to try to pressure the city into reopening their stalled contract negotiations.
Holding signs that read, "Culver Council Unfair to Police" and "Can We Talk?," dozens of officers on Sunday and Monday picketed Veterans Auditorium, City Hall and even council members' homes after bargaining with the city hit an impasse and it looked as if the council would renew the existing contract.
On Monday night, however, with more than 20 officers sitting in the audience and picketing outside, the council put off a decision on the contract until next month so it could re-examine the city's options.
The city's police officers "go to work every day willing to risk their lives for strangers," Sgt. Hank Davies, president of the Culver City Police Officers Assn., told the council. "They are deserving of more than you'll ever be able to give them. But we're . . . only asking for a little more."
The main thing the officers are seeking, Davies said, is a matching deferred compensation plan. This is a supplemental retirement fund to which officers could contribute some of their pay, to be matched by a co-payment from the city.
If the city agrees, Davies said the association would be willing to give up on-call court time, which allows an officer under subpoena on his day off to collect two hours of pay for staying at home in case he is needed in court.
Culver City Personnel Manager Gordon W. Youngs said, however, that city officials believe that at an estimated annual cost of $180,000, the 401(k) plan is "simply too much" for the city to pay.
Youngs said the city is facing declining revenues and is seeking to avoid taxing residents excessively for basic services. The city's position during negotiations with all employees, not just police officers, has been to restructure compensation packages and use the money saved for benefits that would be more cost-effective and widely used.
Police officers' compensation "is at a fair level, in our estimation," he said.
The starting salary of $2,674 a month for a rookie and $2,742 for an officer transferring from another department is the third-highest among police departments in a survey of seven other Los Angeles County cities of similar size: El Segundo, Gardena, Hermosa Beach, Inglewood, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach and Torrance.
Salaries are not part of the contract negotiations; a city ordinance adjusts officers' salaries twice a year. Officers receive an amount equal to half of the average yearly increase given to Los Angeles Police Department officers and Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies.
The officers "tend to forget they are being compensated for their job in the salary area and the benefits are supplemental," Youngs said.
Several officers on the picket line Monday pointed to Police Department statistics showing that crime in the city has decreased 34% since 1980 and said their benefit packages should reflect the job they are doing.
"The City Council should pay us based on performance," said Detective Steve Yoshida, who joined the department three years ago after serving 12 in Redondo Beach. "Right now, statistics show that crime is down in Culver City, and that's important considering we're surrounded by L.A. We must be doing something right."
Members of the 83-member association, which represents the department's officers and sergeants, will probably go door to door next week to try to generate public support for their bargaining position, Davies said. If the city does not return to the table, the officers will vote on whether to take job actions such as work slowdowns, issuing fewer tickets or calling in sick.
The council is expected to consider the issue again at its Sept. 11 meeting, Youngs said.