In the middle of the most serious terrorism alert the nation has ever faced, the Police Commission of the second-largest city in the country is poised to reduce officers' work schedules from five days to three days a week.
Yes, Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn made a campaign pledge to the police union to implement the compressed work schedule known as 3-12--three workdays, each 12 hours. But he also took an oath to the people. And right now, public safety is Job No. 1.
Hahn and the Police Protective League say that the 3-12 shift can actually increase police presence by some fancy scheduling sleight of hand. Also, with 50 officers a month leaving the Los Angeles Police Department, Hahn says 3-12 would help retain officers on the force and recruit new ones.
But Police Chief Bernard C. Parks' analysis of a pilot compressed schedule concluded that it hurt public safety because it reduced the number of officers on the street. It also limited flexibility, which is important when there are emergencies that require tactical alerts--exactly what we had after the recent terrorist attack.
Union officials say their studies show compressed schedules increase the number of officers on the street because of scheduling options and officer retention. A City Council report that aims to reconcile the various studies should be ready by Nov. 10, but Hahn promised the union he would act within 90 days of taking office--that is, by Sept. 29.
So which of these reports are we to believe? Clearly, 3-12 serves the mayor's self-interest; he doesn't want to appear to have broken a political promise. It also serves the interest of the Police Protective League, since it is favored by most officers. So we can understand why the mayor and the union are pushing it.
But implementing 3-12 also would serve the self-interest of Parks, because angering the police union is the last thing that the chief needs. Yet his own sense of integrity won't let him conclude other than what his objective analysis tells him.
I'm no scheduler, but I know a duck when I see one. The Police Protective League says 3-12 would give officers more time with their families. It's widely acknowledged that 3-12 has the side benefit of giving officers time to earn more money on second jobs.
In other words, 3-12 walks like a part-time job, talks like a part-time job and quacks like a part-time job. This is about more money, not more time.
I don't begrudge officers more money, but let's put it on the table that way. Officer recruitment is definitely a value, but it doesn't trump all others.
We've been down this road before. Former Mayor Richard Riordan, at the beginning of his term, also made officer recruitment the highest priority, and some believe that single-minded pursuit led us to the Rampart scandal. Public safety, community-based policing, a balanced city budget--these are values too.
Hahn should pay his political debts with his own political capital and not with the public's trust.