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Hahn Pushes Police Schedule Change

Safety: The mayor, facing growing City Council opposition to his plan to allow officers flexible hours, urges quick action.

September 20, 2001|BETH SHUSTER and PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Faced with political opposition to his proposal for a new work schedule for the city's police officers, Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn on Wednesday set out to build support for the idea, mainly by focusing on its benefits to the public.

Hahn argued that his plan, which he presented Tuesday to the Police Commission, would increase the number of LAPD officers on the streets at any given time. That runs counter to the view of critics, who worry that a flexible work schedule would be a boon to officers but would come at the expense of public safety.

With 50 officers a month retiring or otherwise leaving the LAPD, Hahn said the department is in "a crisis situation." A more flexible work schedule, he added, would help retain officers and aid in recruitment.

So dire is the situation, the mayor said, that he thought he had to act immediately, even as the nation was gripped by last week's terrorist attacks and the imminent threat of war.

"I can't afford for that situation to go on another month, another month, another month without doing something serious to address it," Hahn said in a meeting with Times editors and reporters. "If this can stop even a few officers from leaving, it's worth it."

Under his proposal, patrol officers would work 10-hour and 12-hour shifts along with others who remain on the eight-hour schedule. The officers on the 12-hour shifts would work three days a week and two extra days each month. Officers on the 10-hour plan would work four days a week.

Hahn said that the overlapping shifts would allow more police to patrol the streets and that they would overlap during the busiest times for emergency calls. He has proposed beginning the program in the Central and Hollywood police divisions and then spreading it across the rest of the Los Angeles Police Department at the rate of two stations per month. The department has 18 stations and a number of specialized units.

But opposition in the City Council appeared to be growing as more members moved Wednesday to slow approval of the mayor's plan.

Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas said a $150,000, council-commissioned study on the problems of compressed work schedules will be completed Nov. 10, and he urged the Police Commission not to act before then.

"Acting with haste on this very delicate issue, particularly in this time of national crisis, is imprudent," Ridley-Thomas said.

But Hahn opposed a delay based on the consultants' study.

"It seems to me," the mayor said, "the thing to do is just do it--not to study it."

"I'm sure there are 100 reasons" not to implement a new plan, Hahn said. But "I believe we have to do this to save the department. I believe it's imperative . . . to stop the hemorrhaging of the LAPD."

Still, six council members--Jack Weiss, Nate Holden, Cindy Miscikowski, Jan Perry, Ed Reyes and Ridley-Thomas--signed a motion introduced Wednesday asking for top city officials to brief the council next week on issues that will be raised by the consultants.

Miscikowski, who heads the council's Public Safety Committee, also introduced a motion signed by four other members that asks the consultant and city analysts to provide a response to 16 questions about Hahn's plan.

Among them: how the proposal will affect the court-ordered settlement with the federal government on reforming the department, whether the plan will result in exceeding the goal of responding to emergency calls in seven minutes or less, and the percentage of officers who will work each of the different shifts.

The council members also asked for a report on the operational and fiscal impacts of the mayor's plan.

"In order for the City Council to adequately review the policy implications of the mayor's proposed plan, immediate and expedited evaluation of this plan is necessary," Miscikowski said.

City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo also weighed in on Hahn's plan, worrying that officers who work longer hours could create a liability for the city.

Delgadillo voiced concern that officers might err "if they are tired on the third day and the eleventh hour" and are required to make a quick judgment in a difficult situation.

But Hahn argues that officers will be more rested by having several days off in a row. He also said he does not anticipate large numbers of officers using their days off to take second jobs, another concern often raised by critics.

In Santa Ana, for instance, Hahn said the Police Department there has not seen many officers use the schedule to do more moonlighting. Moreover, Santa Ana has seen its sick time and overtime bills decline while using its modified work schedule.

"I'm not promising that here," Hahn said.

Though he acknowledged that he does not have full council support, Hahn said he believes that enough politicians will back the schedule change for it to be implemented.

"Why defend the status quo which you know is failing now?" he asked.

During his run for mayor, Hahn proposed giving officers a more flexible work schedule. He won the police union's support largely based on that offer, and said during the campaign that he would announce his plan during his first 90 days in office.

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