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Former Allies Riordan, Chick Now Clash on Police Issue

June 11, 1996|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They came into politics three years ago with one 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. Councilwoman 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 past few months, the relationship between Riordan and Chick has instead become strained as they clashed over how to best implement their goals for the LAPD.

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

"It has gone beyond animosity," said one council member, who asked not to be named.

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

A recent series of letters to Chick's West Valley constituents underscores the state of the relationship between the two.

A letter from Riordan blasted Chick 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.

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

Although relations between the mayor and the entire council have been strained lately due to 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 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 spokeswoman Noelia Rodriguez.

For her part, Chick said the friction between her and the mayor has made it harder for her to do her job, particularly since Riordan sent letters to her constituents. But she vows not to 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.

But, she added, "I'm distressed that he and I are not working as partners."

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.

But the 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.

A month after becoming chair of the panel, she raised concerns about the pace of expansion, which adds about 80 recruits per month. She wondered whether Police Academy graduates were getting adequate supervision and on-the-job 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 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, with 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, forcing the city to find more than $100 million over the next five years to pay for those officers.

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 Riordan wants.

Riordan blasted the council, saying: "This is not the type of government where every time there's a tough decision you wimp out and go back to the public to make the decision."

Riordan's critical letter about Chick and a similar one sent to Councilwoman Rita Walters' constituents were paid for from his officeholder contributions and were sent out a week after the council first voted to slow down the police expansion plan.

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