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Key Ally Rebuffs Hahn as Vote on Budget Nears

The police union fails to lobby the council, which will decide fate of a plan that adds new officers.

May 28, 2003|Peter Nicholas and Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writers

In his bid to expand the city's police force by hundreds of officers, Mayor James K. Hahn turned to a trusted ally for a bit of behind-the-scenes political help: the Los Angeles Police Protective League.

Hahn, facing a City Council worried about budget shortfalls, asked the police union's top official to help persuade council members to add 320 police officers to the force.

He had every reason to be hopeful. The union endorsed Hahn in the 2001 mayor's race. And the mayor in turn has been a friend to the union -- approving the flexible work schedule the union sought.

"I got the impression he was going to be supportive," the mayor said of union President Bob Baker.

But interviews with City Council members suggest that the union -- which is in contract renegotiations for its 9,200 members -- did not emerge as a forceful voice for passage of the mayor's plan to expand the LAPD, if it played any meaningful role at all. Sources close to the police union indicate that because of the tightened budget, union officials saw the hiring of new officers as potential competition for their efforts to renegotiate a contract that expires at the end of June.

Some City Council members said they never heard from union officials as they debated the mayor's budget this month and defied Hahn with an 11-4 vote for an alternative spending plan delaying the hiring of additional officers until the state of city revenue was clearer.

Council President Alex Padilla said he was not lobbied by the union. Nor were Councilmen Jack Weiss and Eric Garcetti, members of the council's budget committee. Councilwoman Jan Perry said she expected an approach that never came.

"To the extent that they're advocates on behalf of their members I assumed that this would be of great interest to them," Perry said.

Hahn, asked if the union followed through on his request for backing, said: "I don't know."

Sarah Mast, a spokeswoman for the Police Protective League, said that the union had no comment on whether Baker made any promise to the mayor to help lobby the council for more officers, or spoke to council members. She said the union would not state a position on expanding the force.

The mayor and Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton have waged a contentious public campaign for $19 million to expand the force as well as nearly $5 million to complete the department's reorganization.

The council is expected to vote today on final approval of the city's $5.1-billion budget, with members skeptical that the city can afford so many new officers. Some council members, however, have held out the possibility that a compromise could be reached that would soften the stance taken earlier this month against the immediate expansion of the LAPD.

The budget debate is unfolding at a sensitive time for the union, which hopes to make gains for its members in the latest three-year contract. Union officials are sensitive to the public perception that the flexible work schedule granted under Hahn, which allows officers to work three 12-hour shifts a week, may be seen as a major benefit and make further gains harder.

Top among the union's goals are obtaining cost-of-living increases, addressing rising health-care insurance costs and assuring members that they won't have to pay higher retirement costs out of pocket.

Baker said he will not discuss specifics of their strategy. "It's very important to the league, our officers and the city that we not negotiate the details of our contract in public," Baker said last week. "While we are not discussing the details, we are working with representatives of the city to reach a mutually agreeable solution."

Observers say the union is in a tough position.

"My guess is [union officials] felt caught between two things: on the one hand wanting to protect benefits and retirement and salary levels of current members, while at the same time seeing the benefit of adding new officers," said Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, former president of the city's Police Commission. "It's a tricky road for them."

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Times staff writers Megan Garvey and Jessica Garrison contributed to this report.

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