Scrambling to create new Police Department goals for hiring and promoting women and minorities, the Los Angeles City Council on Friday moved to cement ambitious hiring targets before Proposition 209 can knock them down, but did not approve efforts to impose outside limits on LAPD management.
The compromise cut during a 2 1/2-hour, closed-door meeting of the council would establish new hiring goals for women and Asian Americans, extend court-ordered goals for hiring blacks and Latinos, and mandate creation of an independent unit to investigate discrimination and harassment complaints. Those goals will be part of a package submitted to a federal judge in connection with a long-standing discrimination lawsuit against the LAPD; if approved, the consent decree would be immune from state law and would be in force for 18 years.
Supporters said the most pressing issue was to get council approval on the hiring goals before Tuesday's vote on Proposition 209, a statewide initiative that would ban government affirmative action programs.
Consent decrees connected to lawsuits are exempt from Proposition 209. Hiring goals for blacks and Latinos have already been established by consent decree, but women and Asians were only covered by voluntary programs of the City Council and Police Commission. Those programs could be undone if Proposition 209 passes.
But the agreement does not include some of the more contentious elements of the proposal , such as joining plaintiffs' lawyers in hiring outside consultants to recommend new LAPD policies regarding sexual harassment and discrimination.
"We agree with the goal of ending discrimination, the goal of ending harassment, the goal of ending retaliation, the goal of making the police force look like the city as a whole in terms of women and minorities," said Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, the driving force at City Hall behind the decree. "We left on the table how you get to those goals."
Constance Rice of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Carol Sobel of the ACLU, two of the plaintiffs' attorneys, said they would probably endorse the council's compromise in court next week--but only as a first step.
"This statement that reaffirms equal opportunity principles, that gets you nowhere. They already have that," Rice said. "If they've left out all the things that actually mean the environment will change, this is a signal to me that they're not serious about fixing [it]."
Supporters of Proposition 209 expressed outrage at the council action.
"They made an end-run around 209 four days before election day," said Patrick J. Manshardt, an attorney with the Individual Rights Foundation.
"It's a very obvious attempt to circumvent what we expect to be a certain victory," said pro-209 campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Nelson. "They are truly trying to get around the voters' will by anticipating the victory whose outcome they may disagree with, and enacting these quotas."
The council did not reject any provisions of the proposal, only sending them back for more negotiation. But its action bodes poorly for the broader approach of the original proposal, which would grant lawyers for the plaintiffs greater involvement in departmental operations. Supporters of the full decree were unable to get the required eight votes to approve it, and it is considered unlikely that a majority of council members would approve any settlement unless it is scaled back.
Mayor Richard Riordan, who had lobbied against the proposed agreement, said he was satisfied by the council action.
"I think it's a step in the right direction," he said. Riordan stressed that he supported the sections of the proposal calling for stepped-up hiring of women and minorities but opposed sections that would have, in his estimation, given too much authority to outside entities in overseeing the LAPD.
The council agreed Friday, however, to use the consent decree process to require annual recruitment plans for women and each minority group, including a special budget, and to have by 2013 a department whose ranks reflect the gender breakdown of the county's work force overall.
"We were able to get done what we needed to get done in terms of making sure that those provisions that could be affected by Proposition 209 got passed," said Councilman Mike Hernandez, who had pushed for passage of the whole decree.
"There were important issues about recruitment and hiring that were dealt with today," agreed ACLU attorney Carol Sobel, lead counsel for the plaintiffs. "It's just easier to make the comitment before election day and not put it at risk."
Under the proposed agreement, there is no penalty for failing to meet the hiring goals as long as the city and Police Department are pursuing them in good faith.