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Another huge waste of taxpayer dollars. When will the City learn?

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 04/15/2011 @ 09:04 AM

In a widely-read Daily News editorial last December, League Director John Mumma wrote, “the City must rethink policies instead of cutting LAPD.” The piece had been prompted by the City’s numerous seven-figure settlement payouts for the mistreatment of its employees. In just three years, 13 officers had been awarded more than $43 million in lawsuits against the Department and the City for illegal employment practices.

Now make that $45 million and 15 officers!

On Monday, one current and one retired LAPD officer were awarded a total of more than $2 million by a jury who found that the officers were retaliated against by a commanding officer for not meeting a ticket-writing “quota.” Retired officer Howard Chan was awarded $1.12 million, most of it for emotional distress, while Officer David Benioff received $950,000, all of it for emotional distress. Substantial attorney’s fees are yet to be awarded.

Following an all-too-familiar script, lawyers in the City turned down an offer from the officers’ attorney to settle the case for $500,000. By taking the case to trial, the City is now on the hook for a much higher amount awarded by a jury and has incurred significant legal costs in the process.

We agree with Councilmember Dennis Zine, a former 20-year LAPD motorcycle sergeant and League Director, in his unhappiness that the matter wasn’t resolved long before it entered the judicial system.

"You can't violate the law to enforce the law," Zine told the Los Angeles Times in expressing disappointment with the verdict. "You can't mandate the number of tickets."

At a time when the LAPD is deploying fewer officers to patrol our city’s streets and neighborhoods, and when other city services are being curtailed, it is particularly galling that systemic abuses within the Department continue to happen and result in the loss of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars through jury awards in cases that could and should have been settled long before they went to trial.

Not only is this indicative of the unlawful treatment of some LAPD officers by some management, but from a budgetary standpoint, how many more costly Department management mistakes can the City of Los Angeles afford? The answer, of course, has always been ‘zero.’ You would think that someone at City Hall would perk up and ask questions about these cases and their huge price tags. Of course, you would also think that the Department would learn from their mistakes and put a stop to these situations.

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Who’s the secret billionaire group behind CFFR’s California pension attacks?

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 04/11/2011 @ 03:10 PM

The California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility (CFFR), headed by Marcia Fritz, is a group that’s heading the effort to dismantle pension benefits for public employees. CFFR attempts to cast itself simply as a group of concerned Californians tackling an issue of public interest. Over the past several years, it has furiously churned out op-ed pieces and sued pension boards to gain access to the records of retirees. The group even hosts a website called “The $100,000 Pension Club,” which features a searchable database listing the names of former California public employees who receive more than $100,000 in retirement payments.

However, it turns out that CFFR is being funded not by a fiscally concerned Californian, but by an unnamed out-of-state billionaire foundation.

CFFR’s billionaire benefactor remains a mystery because Fritz and CFFR won’t give up the name. CFFR demands “transparency” for public employees’ retirement records, yet it is adamantly against “transparency” when it comes to the financier pulling the CFFR strings. Fritz routinely derides those who oppose her efforts as “union bosses,” but she won’t divulge the name of the foundation funding those efforts. And while Fritz proudly “outs” retirees receiving a pension after having worked an entire career in public service, her billionaire backer can hide in the shadows behind the Fritz curtain of anonymity.

So, Marcia Fritz, what is it you have to hide? Who’s the member of the “Billionaire Club” that’s pulling the CFFR strings?

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A dangerous and potentially costly departure from state law

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 04/06/2011 @ 03:31 PM

LAPD officers are sworn to always uphold the law. But a recent change to the Department’s impound policy disregards the well defined vehicle code, threatening the safety of drivers and possibly exposing the City to legal liabilities at a time when it’s struggling to close a huge budget gap.

The California Vehicle Code clearly defines the grounds for “Impoundment and Forfeiture of Motor Vehicles.” Under Vehicle Code Section 14607.6 (c) (1):

If a driver is unable to produce a valid driver's license on the demand of a peace officer enforcing the provisions of this code, as required by subdivision (b) of Section 12951, the vehicle shall be impounded regardless of ownership, unless the peace officer is reasonably able, by other means, to verify that the driver is properly licensed. Prior to impounding a vehicle, a peace officer shall attempt to verify the license status of a driver who claims to be properly licensed but is unable to produce the license on demand of the peace officer.

LAPD rank and file know all too well that in these situations, it’s often impossible to verify a driver’s licensure status because, alas, the driver is not licensed. When this is the case, the law clearly mandates the impoundment of the vehicle.

But the Department’s revised policy states that instead of impounding the car of an unlicensed driver stopped at a DUI checkpoint – as required by law – officers must now identify the vehicle’s registered owner and release the vehicle to the owner (or the owner’s designee) if he or she is able to respond to the scene “within a reasonable amount of time.”

The value of impounding vehicles driven by unlicensed drivers is two-fold. First, the cost and inconvenience of recovering an impounded vehicle should discourage anyone from violating the license requirement. Second, an unlicensed driver who is willing to ignore the law is, at least temporarily, unable to further violate this law while his or her car is impounded. This new policy substantially reduces the disincentives against unlicensed and unlawful operation of a vehicle. Moreover, it exposes officers and the City to potential legal liability stemming from any damage or injury caused by an unlicensed driver’s continued operation of a vehicle that should have been impounded under state law.

For these reasons, the League has filed a class action grievance against the policy change. The grievance seeks to have the modification rescinded. If the City and Department feel strongly that the new LAPD policy is somehow more enlightened than state law on this matter – we can’t imagine how it would be – they should devote the necessary resources and time to have the California Vehicle Code changed. Until then, the proper course of action is to follow the law as the men and women of the LAPD are sworn to do.

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Officer Steven Jenkins’ attempted murder: a reminder of the danger of domestic violence calls

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 04/05/2011 @ 04:31 PM

As we pray for LAPD Officer Steven Jenkins’ complete and speedy recovery, the attempt to murder him reminds us of the inherent danger of domestic violence calls.

Officer Jenkins, a 22-year Department veteran, remains hospitalized in critical but stable condition after being shot early Monday as he and other officers approached a Sylmar home in response to a domestic violence call.

These calls are among the most dangerous for officers across the country. A study by the California Commission on POST showed that over a five-year period, domestic violence calls in California led to one in five on-duty deaths of California peace officers.

Ed Nowicki, an expert police trainer and former Chicago officer, says once on scene, police officers responding to domestic disturbances are stepping into evolving volatile situations in which assailants are often emboldened by the fact that they are in their own home. His comments were published in December 2010 following the murder of Arlington, Texas police officer Jillian Smith, who responded to a domestic violence call.

Assailants may be more likely to act aggressively toward those who they perceive as intruders in their castle, even if those intruders carry guns and badges, said Nowicki. "There are so many landmines when you go on a domestic. It's one of the most dangerous calls around. If you know you are taking on bank robbers, to me, that's an easier call."

The tragic reality is that the shooting of Officer Jenkins was only the latest in an increasingly alarming trend of deadly violence towards police officers. After a two-year decline in law enforcement fatalities, 2010 was one of the deadliest on record for law enforcement in nearly two decades. A total of 162 officers died in the line of duty last year, up from 117 in 2009. So far in 2011, 52 have lost their lives, a 20 percent rise from the same time last year.

Officer Jenkins faces a long road to recovery, as Chief Beck told the Police Commission on Tuesday. He will have to undergo a considerable number of medical procedures, including reconstruction of his jaw. “He is a true hero,” the Chief said. “This is a tragedy.”

Fortunately, Officer Jenkins is not among the grim statistics cited above. The LAPD is truly a family for him; both his wife and son are LAPD police officers. We are here to support him and his fellow officers in every way possible.

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Collective Bargaining Editorial

By Kristi Sandoval on 03/28/2011 @ 09:58 AM

The following editorial, submitted by Lt. Shannon Paulson, Central Area, will appear in the April Thin Blue Line. It is being posted on the League Blog with her permission.

I monitored with interest the recent exchange of comments on the LAPPL blog site regarding support of the public employees demonstrating in Wisconsin. I must accept partial responsibility for what followed, as it was I who innocently contacted the Board of Directors and queried as to whether we would be sending any symbol or signal of support to the teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public employees demonstrating in Wisconsin in an effort to protect their “workers’ rights.”

First, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit a tendency to very pro-actively support unions. I have been known to buy donuts and pizza for those on the picket line and my family did actually drive an extra 15 minutes each way to the closest Stater Brothers when the workers at Ralphs and Vons were on strike. Call me a pinko-commie-marxist-socialist wackjob, but I tend to balance my pro-law enforcement, pro-military, pro-death penalty, pro-victim’s rights stance with a large dose of pro-union. I am one of a shrinking number of members of the League who actually remembers “Blue Thunder,” our demonstration during the mayor’s speech at Ebell Theater, the march on City Hall, and other unspecified “labor actions” that occurred in 1993 after our own membership went two years without a contract and the City made an offer of an additional two years of zero and zero. This when we did not even rank in the top 100 pay scale for law enforcement officers in the state and when it became steadily clear the money was available to the City to provide us the well deserved raise.

So, after the legislation to outlaw collective bargaining by public employees was proposed in Wisconsin, an action which to me has no foundation in economics, it appeared logical to me for our League to step up in support of those on the vanguard of what appeared to be the beginning of a national effort to eradicate the power and influence of unions across the country. The comments and opinions that followed in the LAPPL blog were at times entertaining, enlightening and thought provoking. Others were downright disappointing and prompted me to formulate a response.

It is clear there is an unfortunately sizeable portion of our membership (and our retirees) who do not have a full understanding of the function and mandate of the Los Angeles Police Protective League. In case there is anyone left who is not absolutely clear on this – the Los Angeles Police Protective League is a LABOR UNION! I say this because one comment blatantly asked, “Since when did the League become a union?” Other comments, while not as blatant, were clearly speaking from a similar perspective. Some members clearly need to refresh their knowledge base by reading the banner noted on every LAPPL correspondence and prominently posted on the website and in the League offices: “The mission of the Los Angeles Police Protective League is to vigilantly protect, promote, and improve the working conditions, legal rights, compensation and benefits of Los Angeles Police Officers.” Now let me read to you the Miriam-Webster definition of a labor union: “an organization of workers formed for the purpose of advancing its members' interests in respect to wages, benefits, and working conditions.”

Many blog comments raised the issue that the nation is in economic turmoil and the unions and workers need to accept some of the weight of that. This is undeniably correct. Despite most union members having no part in the causal factors of the national situation, it is likely we all will have to share in the burden. Many of our officers have already felt the impact on their families with spouses who have been laid off, received furlough days, etc. But the fact of the matter is the Wisconsin public service unions had already agreed in theory to both pay cuts and increases in their personal contributions to pension plans. They did, however, refuse to willingly surrender their legislatively protected access to collective bargaining – that became the sticking point. Let us be honest – the elimination of collective bargaining has nothing to do with economics and everything to do with union-busting. This is something each and every League member should be concerned with.

While it would be ideal for members of society to always treat one another with compassion and respect, human nature unfortunately dictates this is not always the case. Thus, society created laws and formed law enforcement agencies and criminal and civil courts to safeguard people’s lives and protect their personal, property and business interests. Similarly, it would be ideal if public and private employers could be depended on to consistently treat their employees with fairness and decency. But again, this is not always the case. So society, at the behest of unions, enacted laws to require fair wages, regulate working conditions and ensure reasonably safe working environments. Call it socialist, but it was “activist unions” that garnered for you things like Workers Compensation, the Fair Labor Standards Act which guarantees your overtime and timely compensation of wages, family medical leave and such unimportant trivialities as the Public Safety Officers’ Bill of Rights. (On a sidebar note, some of you may be fascinated to learn that California was the first state to pass legislation specifically protecting the unique employee rights of police officers. The largest supporter of the California POBR was the ACLU and the primary sponsor of the bill in 1976 was the Los Angeles Police Protective League.)

Further, it is thanks to unions that you are not fired after being injured in the line of duty and unable to immediately return to work. It is thanks to unions that you will receive the necessary medical attention for that injury suffered in the line of duty. It is thanks to unions that you do not get paid partially in tokens which can be spent only at the “company store” where prices for goods are twice or three times the going rate. It is thanks to unions that laws exist protecting your teenage children from working in warehouses where fire exits are chained and blocked. Finally: It is not a coincidence that the formation and rise in the membership and activism of labor unions in the United States in the early part of the last century directly corresponds with the rise in the size of the middle class – one begat the other.

It was our union, which you refer to (sometimes fondly, sometimes not) as the “the League,” that has acquired for you in the past, and maintained for you even in today’s economy, your vacation time, your medical and dental subsidies, your uniform allowance, your compressed work schedule, your rate of pay and has negotiated reasonable modifications to LAFP pensions. This was accomplished largely because of the rules regarding collective bargaining. Again, contrary to some misperceptions, and undoubtedly some intentional misinformation, collective bargaining does not require employers to overpay or provide benefits which cannot be afforded. It does, however, require them to negotiate in good faith and give fair and reasonable compensation and benefits according to such considerations as the City’s economic viability, the industries prevailing wage and cost of living in the area being serviced. Do not be fooled, if there is no money to be had, no money is awarded. Collective bargaining can just as easily result in cuts to pay and benefits as it can to increases if the current environment requires it. It simply requires good faith participation by both parties and a determination by an objective arbiter if impasse is reached.

A couple people made the isolationist-leaning comment on the blog that we should just “stay out of it.” They attempt to legitimize this by pointing out that police and fire unions were exempt from the cuts being proposed, or that we in California did not need to concern ourselves with what was happening in Wisconsin. Well, even the police officers and firefighters in Wisconsin see the writing on the wall – they are marching in solidarity with other public employees. Other bloggers went so far as to say “it’s not our fight.” So I’m forced to ask: How many of us have been disheartened by hesitant witnesses to serious crime who refuse to get involved and state “it’s none of my business” or “it’s not my concern.” And how many of us have tried to convince those same witnesses it is in the best interest of the neighborhood and the community that they do get involved? That the next time around it could be themselves or their loved one and how would they then feel if none of their neighbors stepped forward on their behalf. I would argue the same logic can be applied to our current union circumstances.

I observed in this dialogue a symptom of a larger problem within our membership: a clear misperception of the League’s fundamental reason for existence. As a long time League delegate this has been a rising concern of mine. Contrary to what some officers may prefer or personally believe, the primary function of the League is not to advocate for a stronger criminal justice system, the three strikes law, the death penalty or other political or social issues traditionally of interest to law enforcement officers. The individuals elected to the Board of Directors of our League have a duty to fill their role as union leaders first and foremost. Their primary responsibility is to fulfill the mission of the League: to safeguard, and when possible improve, the working conditions, legal rights, compensation and benefits of the membership. No decision they make or action they take on our behalf should be contrary to, or prioritized above, this goal.

For instance, the political candidates you see the League endorse are determined primarily by those candidates’ support and stand on labor issues. Yes, this frequently means those candidates are leaning to the left in the political spectrum. But, to do anything else, to base endorsements on any other issues, would be an abdication of the League’s duty to the membership. Take for instance the National Rifle Association. The NRA’s fundamental duty is to take political action to protect the rights of gun owners. To base their political endorsements on any other factor would be disingenuous to their NRA membership. Similarly, the League, and every other labor union, has a responsibility to prioritize their actions based on labor issues. You may not always agree with these endorsements depending on your individual social, economic or political voting priorities, but again, this is the League’s mission.

Please understand I am not trying to say the LAPPL Board of Directors must always have your unquestioning support or agreement, or that they are not subject to challenges by the membership. I will be the first one to admit that I have not always agreed with every action the Board has taken or statement they have made. After over 15 years as a delegate, I will admit to frequently being the first one to question the Board on several issues – I consider it my responsibility as a delegate and a member to hold my elected representatives accountable. What I am saying is that when we do review and pass judgment on the actions of our elected union representatives, it must be done in the proper context, with a proper understanding of their true mandate and responsibilities.

Shannon Paulson
League Delegate
Central Area

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Why pension plans are good for workers

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 03/22/2011 @ 05:25 PM

Traditional pension plans have been a proven retirement vehicle for many decades. While ambitious politicians can blithely proclaim that the era of defined benefit plans is over, as we mentioned in our previous post, millions of Americans will soon find that 401(k) plans will have failed miserably to provide them with a secure and dignified retirement. It’s becoming increasingly clear that reliable and secure retirement incomes cannot be provided by 401(k) plans.

Congressman Devin Nunes recently introduced a bill in Congress that is misleadingly titled the “Public Employee Pension Transparency Act.” The real objective of his bill can be found in Nunes’ own words, delivered at a recent gathering of public pension plan opponents.

“So what this will only set up, what the folks in the private sector have figured out a long time ago, was that you have to get away from the defined benefit plan (pensions) and somehow get to a defined contribution (401(k)-style plan).”

How does Nunes propose to “somehow get” rid of defined benefit public pension plans? By legislation that would falsely inflate pension fund liabilities. Nunes’ bill would require public pension plans to report their returns using an absurdly low assumption rate, the rate of return for treasury bills. That rate is currently at 3.6%, half the assumed rate used by most public pension plans and drastically lower than that used by corporate defined benefit plans. The lower the return rate, the worse the funded status of public pension plans would appear to be.

Fitch Ratings, an independent rating agency for government debt, rejected the approach of Nunes and his allies a few weeks ago. Fitch stated they would use a 7% assumption rate in evaluating the soundness of public pension plans. Fitch added that the vast majority of governments would be able to meet their obligations to public pension plans, despite the current pressure on budgets.

Sorry, Congressman Nunes, but we and you know the real problem. As we have pointed out, and as the Wall Street Journal recently reported, the true retirement crisis is the dismal failure of the 401(k) plan to provide an adequate retirement. Tens of millions of Americans who’ve enrolled in 401(k) plans are now realizing they do not have, and will not ever have, enough money to retire in a secure and dignified manner.

A Congressman truly concerned about hard working Americans should be holding hearings and advancing legislation to address the serious problem of 401(k)s, not trumping up misleading legislation designed to “somehow get” more people into that failed system. It is transparently clear that Congressman Nunes does not have that goal.

Pension plans, like those offered to Los Angeles City employees, provide monthly pension checks – a reliable, stable income that retirees cannot outlive. In contrast, a defined contribution 401(k) retirement plan provides no established monthly pension, and it provides nothing to fall back on when the savings account is depleted.

The fact is that pension plans create retirement security while 401(k) plans create retirement insecurity.

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Chief Beck and the Police Commission get it right

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 03/16/2011 @ 04:45 PM

When people threaten police officers with a deadly weapon, they alone are responsible for the consequences of these actions.

This basic tenant of law enforcement was resoundingly upheld on Tuesday as the Police Commission ruled that LAPD Officer Frank Hernandez and other officers at the scene near MacArthur Park acted appropriately – and fully within Department policy – in the Sept. 5, 2010 shooting death of Guatemalan immigrant Manuel Jamines.

In unanimously agreeing with Chief Beck’s findings, the commission reaffirmed the right of police officers to take the actions necessary to protect themselves from lethal threats. Lawful commands of police officers must be obeyed. When they aren’t, the situation can quickly take a tragic turn, as it did in this case.

We commend Chief Beck and the members of the Police Commission for their carefully considered conclusion. They did the right thing and sent a clear message: an officer’s use of lethal force is largely determined by an individual’s actions and willingness to comply with lawful commands.

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401(k) plans are falling short

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 03/15/2011 @ 05:16 PM

With all the talk about public pensions and their liabilities, the imminent arrival a real crisis has gone dramatically underreported. It’ll soon become clear that 401(k) plans – into which millions of Americans workers were forced – have failed to meet their stated purpose of funding a dignified, secure retirement.

The original purpose of 401(k) plans was to provide extra retirement money for highly compensated executives. But with no long term data on these plans’ viability, and with employers privately admitting that a 401(k) plan would prove inadequate for retirement, the 401(k) idea was seized on by American employers as a way to rid themselves of the burden of providing defined benefit pension plans.

Now, as the first generation of Americans placed into these plans near retirement, the failure of the 401(k) as a retirement vehicle is becoming painfully obvious.

Only eight percent of households nearing retirement had accumulated in their 401(k) plan the amount necessary to maintain their current standard of living post-retirement, according to a recent study commissioned by the Wall Street Journal. Even the most optimistic survey shows that workers who’ve been with the same employer for 30 years and are in their 60s have an average balance of only $158,754.

The inherent flaws of the 401(k) plan include leaving participants at the mercy of market cycles, and leaving them with scant time to recover from losses, especially if they occur later in life when the market turns down for a medium or extended period. Participants face the ongoing risk of outliving their assets, no matter how carefully they invest, and with the added burden of high fees for mediocre returns.

The 401(k) plan is a serious failure that is going to haunt and bring a lot of pain to this nation for decades to come.

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