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Seeking Fairness in Hard Times : Amid strain on city's treasury and the LAPD, negotiators strive to reach a police contract

Police and Society / A series of editorials on the relationship between cops and communities

September 27, 1993

Can anyone remember when more has been asked of Los Angeles' police? More criminals with more and more firepower in their hands are taking shots at officers; the gun pandemic is upon policemen and policewomen as never before. Even the most hardened veterans can scarcely believe how fierce and violent urban policing has become. And, as economic hard times persist, the police are being asked, as usual, to help keep the city from becoming unglued.

At the same time the City of Los Angeles and the union representing the officers of the Police Department are deep in contract negotiations. It would be inappropriate to suggest which side is more right than wrong. The police say they deserve a raise and the city says it simply doesn't have the money. And, in reality, neither side has a weak case.

The police enter the negotiations in an understandably emotional frame of mind. They have been working without a contract for more than a year, and they have been in the public eye more than ever. The final days of the previous police administration were a near-disaster, as the Webster Commission concluded in its report on the LAPD's response to the 1992 riots. And of course there was the historic Christopher Commission report, which found that the force had failed to address a long list of problems. All that negative publicity hit at a time when the police officer's job surely wasn't getting easier.

Simultaneously, a talented new police chief was recruited from Philadelphia to execute the basic reforms of the Christopher Commission report, to continue to diversify the hiring and promotion of officers and to develop and inculcate, from basic academy training on down to the streets, the law enforcement philosophy known as community policing.

Taken all together, this is a lot to deal with. No wonder that many of Los Angeles' police officers are extremely emotional about the current contract negotiations--they would scarcely be human if they were anything but. Even so, the prospect of blue-flu job actions and by-the-book slowdowns will not win over the hearts and minds of Angelenos.

The hard job now for Mayor Richard Riordan and the City Council is to continue to work with the union to achieve a fair contract in these difficult, recession-driven--as well as crime-driven--times. That won't be easy, but that's government's job.

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