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Giving In to Cops 

The sense and nonsense of a short workweek

Wednesday, Nov 7 2001
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With Gray Davis warning us about possible terrorist attacks, and the heightened consciousness about security in general, it seems a bit preposterous for the LAPD to keep talking about a compressed workweek. Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, the councilman from the inner-city 8th District, shares what seems to be the council’s general diffidence about the long-proposed and long-controversial idea.

Unlike most other members, though, he wants to talk about it:“It‘s simply that it will be bad for my district. It will encourage more crime.” Ridley-Thomas’ strong stance on the workweek is unusual, since he doesn‘t sit on the committees responsible for bringing it into effect. He says that he just figures there’s already enough wrongdoing in his South Los Angeles district without flinging 12-hour, three-day workweeks into the equation. In other words, unlike its proponents, he thinks a compressed workweek will make for worse policing. “This is not about fighting crime,” he said. “This plan is an employee-benefit plan.”

The Police Commission last month approved the latest version of the schedule, pending more studies. But the future of the compressed LAPD workweek will soon be with the City Council, whose own preliminary report has raised a few more doubts among the doubters and a few more defenses among the defenders. Both sides remain far apart on the actual figures. The council report suggests the change would cost the city $6 million a year. The Police Protective League (PPL) claims it would save “taxpayers between $24 to $100 million dollars a year while adding more than 141 officers on the street.”

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In case you spent the last year deep in the Matto Grasso, here‘s what this is all about: For years, the Los Angeles police union has been trying to get the city to offer a compressed schedule. Chief Bernie Parks and his predecessor, Willie Williams, didn’t agree on much. But they both opposed the central proposal for officers to work consecutive 12-hour shifts, three days in a row. So, in the mid-1990s, did the City Council.

Since then, Parks has given a qualified okay to some form of a new schedule, though many assume he secretly opposes it.

But it‘s out of his hands. In January, the PPL invited all mayoral candidates to sign a “compressed work schedule” pledge “in the wake of published reports that crime is on the rise and that the LAPD is having trouble retaining qualified and experienced officers.” Among those signing the pledge was James Hahn.

Hahn has since supported a complex version of the compressed week, with officers variously working eight-, 10- and 12-hour days. The city’s consultant, George Sullivan, said the plan works better if the eight-hour shifts go. Hahn said that was okay with him, and the commission agreed.

But in buying into Sullivan‘s plan, Hahn also apparently acquiesced to Sullivan’s observation that the department needs to spend $6 million more to hire another 62 people to make the compressed schedule work. So the plan that was supposed to save millions will cost millions more, objects Ridley-Thomas.

But it will all work out in the end, the PPL maintains, because the short schedule will increase recruitment and discourage retirement by boosting morale. I imagine you wouldn‘t be particularly elated at the end of your 36-hour stuffit workweek, particularly if you were just getting ready to show up for your second job after four hours of sleep.

Trick or Treat?

Someone pulled a Halloween prank in the Los Angeles City Council last week, but I can’t say exactly who. Maybe it was the entire membership‘s joke on council President Alex Padilla. Maybe it was his on them. Whosoever it was, it quickly turned into a good illustration of how much easier it is to grab authority than to wield it. Not to mention the age-old struggle between youthful strength and elder guile.

Padilla is, at 28, the youngest council president anyone can recall. Before that, he was the youngest member, with just two years in office. He’s risen like a rocket, and everyone forecasts a fabulous future for him. But he really doesn‘t know enough about dealing with people -- after all, his educational background is in engineering. And, of course, with the Coro Foundation, about which don’t get me started. In any case, the worst place to be doing your on-the-job learning is probably the boss‘s chair.

You really saw this on Halloween, after Padilla tried to call all the council members into session from their varied office haunts. (And let it be said here, Padilla’s presiding manner is nicely modest. He‘s more like an MC than a council president, greeting guests and members as though doing so were a personal honor.) But this time, his politesse wore thin. Council members often don’t show up to meetings on time, which is at 10 a.m., and that day was no exception. Padilla, tiring of this tardiness, threatened to adjourn at 10:15 if there was no quorum. He had nine out of 10 members on hand by then, and he sent them all home. Some members, be it said, were in Halloween attire: Nate Holden came -- ha-ha! -- in Arab costume. Eric Garcetti was a sea monster.

Now, late attendance as a governance problem dates to the Bronze Age. So it‘s something of which other L.A. council presidents have been tolerant. John Ferraro usually waited until well past 10:30 before adjourning for want of a quorum, and his predecessor, Pat Russell, was similarly indulgent, yet not above sending the council sergeants at arms out to nab malingerers in their offices. There’s a legend of primordial council presidents who sent police to the homes of absent councilmen (as they all then were) to drag them downtown, but I haven‘t been able to nail down the specifics.

It may be that young Padilla was right to do what he did, in the scoutmasterly sense of “right.” As he noted, ordinary citizens usually have to arrange working time off and spend hours driving downtown to get to City Hall meetings. They’re usually there at 10 sharp, when things are supposed to begin. And if the members aren‘t, well, one can see how the visitors might be peeved.

On the other hand, as the Times pointed out this week, if Wendy Greuel were to win next month’s 2nd District council-seat runoff, Padilla could be holding on to his presidency by a single vote (if an ouster were attempted, he can only be certain of eight votes that remain of the nine who elected him last summer). Which means that it‘s a bad time for Padilla to be pissing the council off.

Beyond the issue of political pragmatism, however, there’s the eternal fact of how things are done at City Hall. Most council business is not conducted on the legislative floor. So it‘s one thing for you to Always Be Prompt to meetings. It’s quite another thing if, to do so, you have to kick Bernie Parks out of your office while he‘s trying to explain the LAPD policies in your district.

I’m not sure how much Padilla appreciates this. But when you are young, in authority and full of outward confidence, yet inexperienced in the management of tough situations, it is wise to err on the side of caution. Otherwise, cracking the whip just to show who‘s boss can have the opposite effect. That’s why, at places like West Point, they teach you never to give an order that you don‘t expect to be obeyed.

In any case, I don’t think Padilla‘s shutting down that meeting made anyone more disposed to do his bidding. Had he waited another minute or two, he’d have had his quorum -- Councilwoman Ruth Galanter said she was just entering the chamber, “when I ran into everyone going out.” (The Times says two other members made the same claim, but I didn‘t see them.) All that resulted, in the end, was that a large Wednesday agenda got held over to make for an extremely confused and busy Friday. And, perhaps, a lingering shadow was left on Padilla’s leadership.

Oh, and what about all those punctual citizen attendees who got time off from their bosses to be at the October 31 council meeting? Let‘s just hope their employers were kind enough to give them some more hours off, later in the week.

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