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Bold action needed from city leaders after Supreme Court’s decision

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 05/23/2011 @ 04:40 PM

Coming on the heels of the City Council’s decision to further cut police resources in Los Angeles, Monday’s Supreme Court decision sets up a perfect storm for a wave of crime to overtake recent gains in public safety.

The court, in a 5-4 decision, ordered California to reduce prison overcrowding – a decision that is expected to force the release of tens of thousands of inmates.

We share the fears of Justice Samuel Alito, who was among the minority of the justices opposed to the decision. “I fear,” he wrote, “that today's decision, like prior prisoner release orders, will lead to a grim roster of victims. I hope that I am wrong. In a few years, we will see." We hope you are wrong too, Justice Alito. But when it comes to public safety, hope shouldn’t be a strategy.

In light of the court’s ruling and because L.A. County is the largest in the state, accounting for about a third of the entire state prison population, we can assume more inmates will return here than to any other county in the state. Because of this likely influx, we call for a reconsideration of the police cuts in the budget approved by the City Council. Mayor Villaraigosa can make that happen by vetoing portions of the city budget and sending them back to the City Council. That would give council members one last chance to put public safety first.

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City leaders can’t have it both ways

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 05/22/2011 @ 08:24 PM

While it’s hardly surprising to hear politicians say one thing but do another, it’s unsettling to see these contradictions happen with public safety.

Some elected officials in Los Angeles may claim that public safety is a top priority, but their actions tell a different story. Claims that the Department is fully funded and that there are more officers patrolling the city are both over-simplified and misleading.

Although in recent years the LAPD has grown modestly in size, there are currently fewer officers doing the police work they were trained and hired to do. On a daily basis, the LAPD has 540 fewer officers working because of forced time off. Another 154 are filling critical civilian positions, and at least 60 more officers are working at the Metropolitan Detention Center to fill in for detention officers the City won’t hire. The math is simple: every 100 officers pulled off patrol to preclude overtime pay or backfill civilian positions equates to the removal of 30 police cars citywide.

These elected officials have shown that their commitment to public safety amounts to little more than lip service. Several years ago, the City tripled trash collection fees and promised to hire more officers with this money. But over the last few years, the City has made significant budget cuts to the Department. Officers have done more with less, in the form of vehicles, equipment, training and support services. This year, City leaders have proposed to once again cut LAPD funding by $120 million in anticipation of a fiscal shortfall.

Because of reductions to the budget, the LAPD has essentially lost the equivalent number of people it has hired. Yet, these same leaders tell the public that the Department has grown. And it has grown, but only on paper and not in terms of police officers doing actual police work every day.

Officials who say public safety is their number-one priority do so because they know that more officers on the street means safer communities. Creating the appearance of a fully staffed Department leads the public to believe that everything is all right, yet we’re already seeing signs of seriously strained resources; in certain cases the Department has gone on tactical alert to make up for a shortage of officers on the street.

We understand that balancing the city budget forced some painful choices, but telling residents that public safety is a priority and then cutting its funding is, at best, disingenuous. City leaders can’t have it both ways.

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City Council’s Budget Committee can do better than this

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 05/13/2011 @ 09:01 AM

City Hall’s struggle to come up with responsible budget solutions became even clearer on Tuesday when the Budget and Finance Committee proposed six furlough days for police officers beginning in January.

Committee members were apparently cool to Mayor Villaraigosa’s idea of borrowing $42.6 million to get the city through the coming year. They proposed their own plan instead, which includes new budget cuts and furlough days for sworn police officers and certain firefighters.

Has the Committee forgotten that we are already putting 540 police officers on forced time off to avoid paying them overtime? On top of this, 154 officers are filling critical civilian positions, and at least 60 more are working at the jail to fill in for detention officers the City won’t hire.

Every 100 officers pulled from field work to backfill civilian positions roughly equates to removing 30 police cars citywide. This dramatically impacts the LAPD’s ability to respond to calls and keep crime down. The League hears it from members every day, how they are spending more time in the stations doing administrative work instead of addressing crime on the streets.

But the City insists on hiring new officers instead of properly allocating the experienced resources it already has, and now the Budget Committee is threatening current officers with unnecessary and irresponsible furloughing. Why keep hiring when the City still needs to cut millions of dollars from its budget?

The Mayor’s budget will be presented to the full city council today, with voting set for next week. Over the past year, the League has offered many solutions that save money while preserving public safety. We hope our leaders will put public safety first and find better ideas than officer furloughing.

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Closing ranks for public safety

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 05/10/2011 @ 04:04 PM

When we preach public safety first, we mean just that. When someone dials 9-1-1, the caller is typically in urgent need of help from police, firefighters or paramedics, if not all three. Our city’s residents expect and deserve a timely public safety response – especially when every minute counts.

The League continually calls attention to the impacts of the city budget crisis on the LAPD. But we’re also growing increasingly concerned about the effects of budget cuts on the Los Angeles Fire Department. When it comes to public safety, the LAPD and LAFD are full partners in protecting and serving the people of Los Angeles.

Every day, the LAFD temporarily closes 22 fire companies and six ambulance teams to save money. This stopgap measure was implemented in 2009 as part of a budget balancing effort. The idea was that the closed companies’ firefighters would report to other companies to fill in for sick or vacationing firefighters. Measures like these leave residents hoping their nearest station won’t be closed on a day they need the help of firefighters or paramedics. But hopeful thinking is not an adequate public-safety strategy.

Now, to eliminate the temporary closings, the City is proposing the permanent closure of 18 fire companies and four ambulances at stations across the city. This wasn’t the solution to the “temporary” closures we wanted or expected. And it isn’t the right one either. Some of our elected leaders are apparently prioritizing other concerns over public safety.

Before Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa unveiled his $6.9-billion budget last month, we knew it would require difficult choices to close the budget gap. But we also expected the choices to be prudent.

The proposed closure of the Wilmington-area Truck 38 is a case in point. L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe fired off a letter to the Mayor, taking exception with the plan to close the fire company and two ambulances serving the community of Wilmington. Knabe rightfully acted out of safety concerns for his constituents and because the city and county have “mutual aid and automatic aid” agreements to respond into one another’s jurisdictions to assist with fire suppression.

Now consider the Malibu/Pacific Palisades border, which has some of the country’s densest brush terrain. When a brush fire threatens Malibu residents, LAFD Engine Company 69 is the primary first aid the county receives from the city because of its location on Sunset Boulevard near PCH and Temescal Canyon. Closure of this Company will result in 10-minute response time delays, assuming the next truck is not already out on a call – an unacceptable risk for Southland residents.

And then there are fire calls that impact the LAPD. When a neighborhood needs to be evacuated, for instance, LAPD officers are always on-scene to get residents out of harm’s way. And, of course, officers depend on LAFD to respond as quickly as possible when a crime victim or an officer is wounded. Every minute waiting for help can often mean the difference between life and death.

As the men and women of LAPD and LAFD pull together to continue protecting our city despite continually diminishing resources, we are watching to see how many of our elected leaders will stand with us and put public safety first.

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Labor Law Under Attack

By on 05/06/2011 @ 06:00 PM

The following article by John Tennant, SJPOA General Counsel, was originally posted on the San Jose Police Officers' Association website on March 29, 2011 and is reposted here with permission from the Association.

Almost a quarter of a century ago, in the fall of 1987 on a rainy Saturday afternoon in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I sat in a law school classroom as part of a symposium put on by the Harvard Labor Law Project. The subject was the state of labor law in the U.S. as the century was drawing to a close. While the title, “Harvard Labor Law Project,” sounds grand, in reality it was a rag-tag collection of a handful of idealistic and idiosyncratic students at Harvard Law School who had an affinity for labor unions. We were far and away a minority in a student body of whom the vast majority would go on to practice corporate law.

One of the speakers was the then-vice president of the United Mineworkers of America, Cecil Roberts. He addressed us in somber tones about the state of organized labor, and something he said in particular seared into my then 24-year-old memory. It was this, his advice to any would-be labor lawyers: “I fear you are preparing for a profession that may no longer exist. There may not be any such thing as ‘labor law’ in the future.” I suppose that at that moment I was hooked. I now knew what I wanted to do with my life: become a union labor lawyer. I was a romantic after all, and the old adage about the “only causes worth fighting for are those that are already lost” proved irresistible. Just how bad things could get from there, I did not – I could not – fully comprehend.

In 1987, it didn’t seem possible to imagine organized labor as being even more on its knees than it was at that time. President Reagan’s firing of striking air control workers (the PATCO union members) had set the tone for government and industry alike: unions were now public enemy number one. Henceforth, it was to be open warfare on organized workers, and I knew precisely where my loyalties lay. With under 15% of American workers belonging to unions – down from the historic highpoint of 28.3% in 1954 – how much farther could we fall?

Fast forward to our present day: the total percentage of unionized workers in America has dropped to less than 12%. If you subtract public sector workers from that figure, you arrive at the sobering realization that under 7% of the private-sector workforce belongs to a union. Without public sector workers, the “folks who brought you the weekend” – aka, the labor movement – would seem to be on life support. And with Wisconsin’s recent gutting of collective bargaining laws for the overwhelming majority of the state’s public workers and other states considering doing the same, Cecil Roberts’s grim prophecy seems that much closer to becoming a reality.

“Organized labor fueled the expansion of the middle class after World War II. Unions forged a link between soaring productivity and rising paychecks. [B]reaking unions today decouples that link tomorrow. Many employers will take their cue from the public sector and slice private-sector wages and benefits even more. Even those workers who currently have little could have a lot less. Moreover, lower wages translate into reduced purchasing power, slowing the recovery and reducing revenue for the state.”

Much of the current rage against public employee unions stems, of course, from those beleaguered private sector workers who aren’t unionized and understandably envy what they see as the handsome wages and retirement benefits – handsome in comparison to what they receive – that public workers get. But whittling public workers down to size, as it were, by hobbling their unions will not help private sector employees and more likely will make things even worse. As UC Berkeley Professor Harley Shaiken, a labor expert, has written,

To be sure, many will tell you that they really don’t mean to take away public workers’ collective bargaining rights. They insist that in fact it’s “pension reform” they’re after, not the dismantling of labor law. Indeed, the San Jose Mercury News took pains to emphasize that notwithstanding its support last year for a measure that sorely weakened police and firefighters’ rights to arbitrate labor contract disputes, its editorial board nonetheless finds Wisconsin’s current behavior toward public employee unions “reprehensible” and “cynical.” (Mercury News Editorial, Feb. 22, 2011.)

The Mercury News editors have either inadvertently missed or intentionally ignored the obvious: for unionized workers who lack the right to strike (like police and firefighters), arbitration is the means by which some semblance of bargaining parity is achieved. Without either a right to strike or a right to arbitrate over an employer’s actions, collective bargaining becomes little more than collective begging. And that is not anything approaching what we might think of as a just “labor law.”

While the measure that weakened arbitration for San Jose’s public safety workers was different in degree from what Wisconsin and other states are seeking to do right now, it was no different in kind, and the Mercury News – along with all the other critics of public employee benefits who attempt to distance themselves from Wisconsin – ought to recognize precisely whose cause they are championing. It is that of Wisconsin and the other states who threaten to undo one of America’s greatest achievements for the betterment of the working class: union labor law.

“Roll the Union On . . .”

John Tennant has served as general counsel to the San Jose Police Officers' Association since 1998. A frequent lecturer on the rights of public employees, John has given seminars to labor and management representatives alike on public sector labor laws, primarily those that govern police officers and other public safety employees.

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Bin Laden is gone, but the threat of terrorism remains

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 05/05/2011 @ 05:36 PM

On the very day Osama bin Laden was killed in a precision Navy Seals operation, law enforcement agencies throughout the nation were recalling how one year earlier, panic was spread by the discovery of a bomb-laden SUV planted in the heart of Times Square by a homegrown militant. Faisal Shahzad’s bombing attempt sent a wave of fear across New York City and shut down Times Square for 10 hours.

The killing of bin Laden does not and should not diminish our worries about and preparedness for the next terror attack. Homeland security experts believe – and we agree – that future terror attacks are inevitable. And at least in the near term, they may be driven by a desire to avenge bin Laden’s death.

Without him as its leader, al-Qaida may not be the threat it once was. But the would-be Times Square bomber represents a new breed of homegrown terrorists that police officers are uniquely positioned to confront and thwart. These self-radicalized terrorists don't have the formal training or the resources of the 9/11 attackers, but they still have the power to paralyze a city with fear. More than ever, it will be up to frontline law enforcement officers to stop this from happening.

Recalling the one-year anniversary of the botched bombing, New York’s police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, believes his city was lucky. “We had an individual who was able to drive in there with what he thought was a functional bomb," he said. “It could have been a major catastrophe.” Since then, New York police have expanded programs to monitor the stockpiles and sales of fertilizer, household chemicals and other potential homemade-bomb ingredients; to patrol the subways with bomb-sniffing dogs and heavy arms; and to use license-plate readers, closed-circuit cameras and radiation detectors to harden Wall Street and midtown targets against dirty bomb and other attacks, AP reports.

Here in Los Angeles, the LAPD wisely sent additional officers to the Staples Center for the Lakers playoff games. The Department is also focusing extra attention on transportation hubs, the Port of Los Angeles and critical telecommunications facilities.

It’s important that we not allow bin Laden’s death to lull us into a false sense of security. The threats our city and our nation faced last week are still with us. The LAPD and our city must remain at elevated levels of alert and security.

So as we train and work to prevent the next terrorist attack, it’s probably a good idea to think as much about the May 1, 2010 attempted Times Square bombing as we do about the possibly diminished al-Qaida threat now that its leader has been taken down by our Navy Seals in Pakistan.

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Officer-involved shootings reflect the hazards of police work

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 04/29/2011 @ 08:55 PM

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Image from losangeles.CBSlocal.com

The 2011 year-to-date number of LAPD officer-involved shootings is higher than comparable periods for the last several years. This increase serves as a stark reminder of the inherent dangers of the profession.

The LAPD figures are part of a disturbing and tragic nationwide trend. Over the past year, numerous officers have been murdered across the country. As we have been warning for months, after a two-year decline in law enforcement fatalities, 2010 was one of the deadliest on record for police officers nationwide. A total of 162 officers died in the line of duty last year, up from 117 in 2009. So far in 2011, 63 officers nationwide have lost their lives. The recent LAPD shootings all involved armed suspects. Officer Steven Jenkins, who was shot in the face and chest, and nearly murdered by a domestic violence suspect earlier this month, was our most recent and closest reminder that these men and women really do put their lives on the line every day.

We cannot, however, fail to note that there are always self-appointed “community leaders” ready with a quote and criticism whenever police officers use deadly force to protect the lives of others and their own. The latest example of this criticize-early, facts-be-dammed “activism” comes after the shooting of Brenda Williams, who was pointing a gun at a neighbor and refused to drop it when ordered to by three officers.

Anyone should recognize that threatening another person with a gun, not to mention refusing to drop it when commanded to by uniformed police officers, forces them to use deadly force to stop the threat. But apparently, one “community leader” managed to bluster his criticism of the shooting all the way into the paper, questioning the “use, level, and type of deadly force” against Ms. Williams because it happened when “she was in her home.” Yep, we aren’t kidding, that truly was the assessment of a so-called “community leader.” Does this mean there should be different rules for people who threaten to kill others in their own home?

Some things will never change. Police work will remain dangerous and there will always be a few noisemakers and opportunists who criticize police no matter how justified a shooting may have been. But we trust that the vast majority of Los Angeles residents will appreciate both the dangerousness of police work and the professionalism with which the LAPD carries it out.

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Sickening “Dog Wars” game muzzled

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 04/28/2011 @ 01:40 PM

When the media started calling on Tuesday for the League’s comment on a new Android video game app, we took one look at the content and decided to take the gloves off. The game in question was the sickening “Dog Wars,” which lets players raise and train their virtual dogs to fight. “Raise your dog to beat the best,” read the app’s tag line, while the website offering it as a free download invited visitors to “Feed, water, train and FIGHT your virtual dog against other players.”

League President Paul Weber fielded media calls throughout the day, branding the game as “sickening” and calling for its immediate removal from the website and the Android Market. “It’s absolutely the wrong message to send our children,” Weber told the Los Angeles Times, “because it encourages cruelty to dogs and could serve as a virtual training ground for people to try dog fighting in real life.”

Particularly galling to us was the note on the game’s website touting player options including a "gun for police raids” and the ability to “inject the dog with steroids." At a time marked by rising violence against police officers nationwide, this was completely irresponsible and offensive.

Shortly after the League’s widely covered news conference on Tuesday afternoon, the game was removed from the Android Market. We don’t know whether Kage Games, the developer, decided to take it down or whether Google removed it as a terms-of-service violation, but in a letter to Google CEO Larry Page, Weber asked that the game’s removal be made permanent. It’s the right thing to do.

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