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Plan Calls for More Women, Asians in LAPD

October 19, 1996|JIM NEWTON and JODI WILGOREN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A proposed consent decree intended to end a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department would create strong recruiting and hiring goals for women and minorities and would formally strip the department of the power to investigate discrimination claims--a landmark proposal that is stirring spirited debate at City Hall and inside the LAPD.

The most recent draft of the proposed consent decree, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, would codify some existing hiring goals and boost others, particularly for women and Asian Americans. The LAPD would be required to demonstrate a strong commitment to recruitment and to show that it has eliminated barriers to women and minorities, all part of an agreement that one council member described as an attempt to change the culture of the Police Department.

At the same time, some top LAPD officials warn that the deal may erode the Police Department's ability to manage itself. The proposed decree would allow outside consultants to draft extensive recommendations for handling discrimination and harassment issues. It would also give the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups a say in drafting recruiting plans and would require the city to establish a Discrimination Office outside the LAPD that would investigate all discrimination complaints.

Under the proposed decree, the city would have six months to create that office, which would report to the Police Commission.

The proposed consent decree would settle a discrimination case known as Tipton-Whittingham vs. City of Los Angeles. The proposal has not been released publicly, and even some top city officials have yet to see the document. But representatives of the city attorney's office plan to forward it to the City Council on Tuesday. No cost estimates are attached to the deal, but a City Hall source said Friday that internal estimates suggest that it would cost about $3 million for the first year.

According to his aides, Police Chief Willie L. Williams is backing the agreement, partly because he sees it as offering him a tool for attacking discrimination within the Police Department. Williams was unavailable Friday, but Assistant Chief Frank Piersol, who heads the LAPD's Office of Administrative Services, said, "The goals and objectives of this are a really good thing."

Police Commission President Raymond C. Fisher said some commissioners were concerned that they had not been more adequately briefed about the negotiations. Nevertheless, he said the proposal to create a discrimination unit outside the LAPD hierarchy closely paralleled an effort by the Police Commission itself.

"Whether it will be acceptable to us or not, I don't know," Fisher said.

The commission's opinion may be irrelevant, however. The City Council has the authority to settle lawsuits against the city, so its approval may be all that is required to settle the case.

The two key council members, Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Laura Chick and Personnel Committee Chairwoman Jackie Goldberg, said Friday that they have yet to review the consent decree document.

Still, Goldberg said she was encouraged by the tenor of the negotiations with the plaintiffs, talks that she said were focused on "changing the culture of the department over a period of time." Chick, however, worried that the proposed decree might go too far toward establishing quotas and said she believes the LAPD already is on track toward a major readjustment in the makeup of its force.

"My view is that LAPD has radically improved all of their personnel guidelines and their practices," Chick said. "What I still need to be convinced about is that these kinds of things that are being recommended are needed."

According to a draft version of the decree, the agreement would commit the LAPD to hiring women and minorities at the level of the county civilian work force--about 35% Latino, 10% African American and 7.5% Asian American. Today's LAPD is 29% Latino, 13.8% African American and 4.3% Asian American.

Women today make up about 17% of the Police Department but 43% of the county work force, and the decree would pledge the department to working toward the 43% goal incrementally. By 2013, the proposed decree states, the LAPD would be expected to match the county's civilian work force in terms of women.

Existing consent decrees already set hiring goals for women, Latinos and African Americans. The new decree would dramatically increase the goal for women and set the first consent decree goal for Asian Americans. The proposed document would have little immediate effect on the goals for African Americans and Latinos.

Backers of the deal, which would have an 18-year term, stress that those percentages are goals, not quotas. The city would not be punished for failing to meet them as long as it acts in good faith. The city and LAPD would be held responsible for taking steps toward achieving those goals, however.

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