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LAPD Consent Decree Cost Put Over $28 Million

November 01, 1996|JIM NEWTON and JODI WILGOREN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A confidential memorandum delivered to some Los Angeles City Council members estimates that a proposed agreement in a Police Department discrimination lawsuit, scheduled for a vote today, would cost the city $28.6 million to $35.4 million over its 18-year life span.

The memo rocked the growing debate on the issue, emboldening critics appalled at its price tag and infuriating supporters who say the estimates are inflated and misleading. The proposed agreement, known as a consent decree, would commit the LAPD to hiring and promotion goals for women and minorities, and would revamp police management practices for investigating sexual harassment and discrimination claims.

The estimated costs, which still are under review and could change today, combine projections by the mayor's office, the city administrative office and other city departments. The City Council is slated to vote today on whether to approve the consent decree in the harassment and discrimination lawsuit known as Tipton-Whittingham vs. City of Los Angeles.

The vote was delayed from earlier this week in part because Councilmen Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hal Bernson were out of town on city business. All council members are expected for today's session, which convenes just four days before voters statewide go to the polls to decide on a measure that would abolish many government affirmative action programs in California. Some critics of the proposed LAPD decree accuse supporters of trying to rush a vote before Tuesday's election. Backers say that even if Proposition 209 passes, it would not affect the proposed consent decree.

Under the terms of the proposal, the LAPD would agree to work with lawyers for the plaintiffs in order to hire consultants who would recommend revised policies and practices for handling complaints of harassment and discrimination. In addition, the decree would lock in hiring goals for minorities and women for 18 years, and would require the city to pay for monitoring of the decree by lawyers for the plaintiffs, a common provision in consent decrees.

Unlike some other decrees, however, it would not resolve the entire case: Damages could still be brought against the city by individual plaintiffs in the case.

Police Chief Willie L. Williams, whose top staff helped negotiate the deal, has expressed guarded support for a consent decree but has stopped short of urging approval of the agreement as written. Mayor Richard Riordan has urged council members to reject the decree. The Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners voted this week to oppose the agreement.

Thursday, with a council vote possibly approaching, the latest cost estimates reinforced the concerns of critics and angered some supporters, who said the projections were wildly overstated. According to Carol Sobel, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who is active in the case, many of the costs that the city is attributing to the consent decree are for programs that the Police Department already is under orders to create.

A personnel tracking system that the memorandum suggests could cost $2.5 million already is a priority of the Police Commission, Sobel said.

"To charge that program off as a cost to the consent decree is deceitful," she said. "At a minimum, this is really misleading."

In addition, some supporters argued that even if the estimates are accurate, they may end up saving the city money. Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, who chairs the Personnel Committee and is the leading lawmaker supporting the decree, said rejecting the proposal would likely be even more expensive.

If the council rejects the decree, Goldberg said, the city might end up with a hefty judgment, and still be required to make the reforms called for in the proposal.

"People are behaving around here like our choice is give up and just throw the towel in or win this case. Those aren't the choices," Goldberg said. "The choices are lose in court and have no say in what happens, or agree now and do things that make sense to the Personnel Department, to the city attorney's office, to the police chief and some of his staff--and, I think, to the majority of the council."

According to the estimates, some of which still are under review, first-year costs of the proposal could fall between $2.5 million and $4 million--but also could go as high as $6 million, depending on the cost of a personnel tracking system. The memorandum also estimates that it will cost the city about $500,000 a year to pay lawyers from the ACLU, NAACP and other organizations for monitoring the LAPD's compliance with the decree--another estimate that Sobel said was way off.

Other major expenses include an estimated $1.5 million in legal fees and $220,000 a year in additional money for a planned anti-discrimination unit. The decree calls for creation of a city Discrimination Office, and though the Police Commission is moving toward creation of its own unit, the memorandum says the decree would require a bigger, more expensive office.

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