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Police Union's Heavy Hand

April 12, 2002

The Los Angeles police union is like an overly critical partner who never has anything good to say. The Police Protective League doesn't like Chief Bernard C. Parks. It wants a divorce; Mayor James K. Hahn delivers. The union demands a three-day workweek of 12-hour days; the mayor makes sure some officers get it, over the opposition of the chief and common sense. So far during Hahn's mayoral tenure what the police union wants, it gets.

Hahn must not allow the league to pick the next police chief or run the Los Angeles Police Department. He also shouldn't allow the union to stand in the way of reform.

LAPD discipline may be the next big test. The union criticizes the system that Parks put into place as excessively focused on minor infractions, too tough on patrol officers and too easy on higher-ranking officers or well-connected cops. But the next chief can't allow a return to the racism, rampant rudeness, lax discipline and kid-glove punishment documented a decade ago by the Christopher Commission during a time when cops could--in some cases, perhaps literally--get away with murder.

Hahn wants full implementation of the consent decree that, as city attorney, he negotiated with the U.S. Justice Department to avoid a federal civil rights lawsuit against the department. The union isn't likely to take kindly to that. But Hahn can't let it dictate policy in exchange for political support.

Likewise, Hahn--and every sensible resident of Los Angeles--wants the department, which is down more than 1,000 officers, to operate at full strength. Is the union responding to this crisis by aggressively recruiting in television advertisements as it should? Or is it still petulantly helping the LAPD's finest find new jobs in other cities' forces through job postings in its newsletter? Such pettiness only further undermines the department's ever more dangerously slow response time.

Hahn has said that the slowing response times, low morale, the growing crime rate and the reluctance in embracing community policing factored into his decision to oppose Chief Parks' reappointment. While the league shares some of these concerns, its vehement opposition to Parks was suspicious because he was the second black police chief who became a target for the union. Unions are often at war with the boss, but is that all that was going on in the Parks battle? It's a question that hangs uncomfortably in the civic air.

For the sake of the city, Hahn needs to show clearly now that his true loyalty is not to the union but to public safety. The mayor must demonstrate his independence from the Police Protective League.

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