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Simi Police Quit Extra Posts in Labor Dispute

Times Staff Writer

Twenty-seven Simi Valley police officers, including SWAT team members, have resigned from volunteer duty assignments during a labor dispute, but city officials said the action would not affect law enforcement in the Ventura County city of about 100,000.

Police Chief Paul Miller called the resignations from the paid duties “symbolic at this point.” He said that if there is an emergency, such as a gunman holding hostages, “the officers will respond when the chips are down.”

But Sgt. Gary Collins, a spokesman for the department’s 85 officers, sergeants and detectives, said the action will force Miller to call in deputies from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department in some instances, including serving warrants on suspects considered dangerous.

Miller said he will ask his officers to work before contacting the Sheriff’s Department under a mutual aid agreement.

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The union denied it is behind the resignations. Union attorney Stephen H. Silver called the resignations a spontaneous protest. But he said the union will continue to apply pressure on city officials until they accept its demands.

Miller said he will order six officers who resigned their volunteer positions as firearms specialists to resume their duties supervising the department’s weekly shooting practice. The department’s next practice is set for today.

“We are not going to go without our regularly scheduled pistol practice,” Miller said.

In addition to the firearms specialists, known as range masters, the resignations leave the department without its 14-member Special Weapons Team, which serves certain arrest and search warrants and deals with criminals holding hostages. The five-member Crisis Negotiating Team also resigned, as did two officers who train 13-to-18-year-old volunteers in the Explorer program.

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Officers have been working without a contract since last Saturday. An impasse was reached last week in contract negotiations between the city and the Simi Valley Police Officers Assn.

The officers have demanded a 9% salary increase over two years and a workweek of four 10-hour days. They want their pay to be adjusted in the 21st month of the contract to equal the average police salary in 12 specified Southern California cities, including Oxnard, Ventura, Pasadena, Torrance, Santa Monica and Glendale.

The city has offered a salary increase of up to 24% over a four-year period, and wants to pay no more than 50% of the difference between Simi Valley police wages and the average wage in the 12 cities.

Silver said the officers resigned from the volunteer details because the city refused to bring their salaries up to the 12-city average and refused to allow them to work a shorter week. They want a four-day week, Silver said, because “they’re working 10-hour days anyway, and it’s taking a toll.”

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Silver said the union has offered to hire an expert to assess the feasibility of the four-day week and would accept a pay cut if the program ends up costing the department money. It also has offered to let the department implement the new schedule on a trial basis for one year, he said.

Laura Wylie, city personnel administrator, said the four-day work week would cause scheduling problems regardless of what it cost. She said the city is concerned that officers still would end up working overtime, stretching their work day to 12 to 14 hours.

“It’s more than a dollar issue, it’s a philosophical one,” she said.

Wylie said she doubts that the officers’ resignations will affect police services because “we think they will respond to situations involving public safety or hazards.”

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Officers currently earn between $2,206 and $2,884 per month, about 8% lower than the average salary in the 12 other cities, Wylie said.

In February, the City Council raised Chief Miller’s salary to the average level earned by chiefs in the 12 cities. Miller now makes $6,139 per month, which could rise to a maximum of $6,927. Previously, the maximum he could earn was $5,684.

No mediator has been called in. The union said it is willing to accept binding arbitration.


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