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Rift Between Mayor, Chick Seen as Threat to Police Expansion

City Hall: Riordan has blasted the councilwoman for vote to slow hiring of officers. She says that funding is shaky.

June 11, 1996|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They came into politics three years ago with a common overriding goal: to beef up the beleaguered Los Angeles Police Department.

Mayor Richard Riordan took office, vowing to add 3,000 new officers by 1997. Council member Laura Chick, a staunch police supporter, became head of the council's Public Safety Committee last year, promising to modernize the department and reduce officer attrition.

It appeared that the two would form a tight alliance.

But in the last few months, the relationship between Riordan and Chick has become strained as they clash over how best to implement their goals for the Police Department.

The hostility between the two is well-known throughout City Hall, and some insiders fear that it may further jeopardize the cooperation needed by Riordan and the council to continue to strengthen the Police Department.

Sources say that Riordan has privately referred to Chick as his "biggest enemy" in City Hall.

A recent letter from Riordan to Chick's West San Fernando Valley constituents blasted her for voting with a majority of the council to slow down his police expansion plan.

"Astoundingly, just last week, your council member, Laura Chick, joined several other council members by voting to slow down police expansion," said the letter, which urged voters to pressure Chick to change her vote.

The mayor also sent letters on the issue to the constituents of several council members, praising some for supporting his proposals and criticizing at least one other, Rita Walters, for her opposition.

Chick responded last week with her own letter to constituents, accusing Riordan of trying to fund the expansion with "rosy assumptions, questionable borrowing, dubious financial transfers and unstable one-time monies."

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Although relations between the mayor and the entire council have been strained lately because of budget and personnel disputes, the relationship between Chick and Riordan is crucial because of the key positions they hold on police matters.

Chick and a Riordan spokeswoman insist that the tension will not hamper their efforts to work together.

"The mayor has his eye on the goal and that is to make Los Angeles safer, and the mayor will do what it takes to reach that goal," said Riordan representative Noelia Rodriguez.

Chick said the friction between her and the mayor has made it harder for her to do her job, particularly since Riordan sent the letter to her constituents. But she vows to not let it hinder her work in City Hall.

"I understand that as part of my job I will have disagreements with the mayor and the other council members . . . and I accept that," she said.

Since taking office, Chick and Riordan have teamed up on several projects, including the building of a community theater in Canoga Park and the establishment of junior police academies for high school students interested in pursuing law enforcement careers.

Their relationship appeared to sour last year when Chick took over as head of the Public Safety Committee and began to question Riordan's police expansion plan.

One month after becoming head of the panel, she wondered whether Police Academy graduates were getting adequate supervision and training once they were assigned patrol duties. Riordan's office shrugged off Chick's concerns, saying quality was not being sacrificed for quantity.

In January, Chick questioned whether Riordan's police expansion plan was too narrowly focused and suggested that it be revised to include improvements to the crime lab, the 911 system and salary increases to stem attrition.

Although Riordan agreed that improvements were needed at some police facilities, he insisted that the expansion plan is only part of a larger blueprint for improving the department.

Most recently, Chick was a vocal critic and a key vote against Riordan's latest budget proposal, which called for hiring 710 new officers with the help of a $53-million federal grant.

Chick and a majority of the council argued that some of the funding Riordan proposed for the expansion was questionable and that the federal grant would last only three years, leaving the city to find more than $100 million over the next five years.

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At the suggestion of Councilman Mike Feuer, the council majority voted instead to expand the department by only 460 officers next year and proposed putting a public safety tax on the November ballot to pay the additional officers that Riordan wants.

Despite her concerns about the expansion, Chick said she has remained a staunch police supporter. For example, she donated part of her salary to the department.

Chick said she has met with Riordan on several occasions in an attempt to mend the relationship but has had little success. Sources said the two had a particularly bitter breakfast meeting a few weeks ago. It was then that Riordan reportedly called Chick his "biggest enemy" in City Hall.

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