Simi Valley Labor Squabble Escalates : Mayor Threatens to Dissolve Police

Times Staff Writer

Simi Valley Mayor Greg Stratton has threatened to dissolve the city's Police Department, the latest salvo in a labor dispute between the city and its police officers.

"There may be some real advantages in terms of cost to disbanding the city's Police Department and hiring Ventura County sheriff's deputies to patrol the streets instead," Stratton said Tuesday in an interview. He said he will bring the issue up for discussion at the City Council meeting Monday night.

The 85-member police union shrugged off the threat.

"It's a false threat that's been used on us before," said Sgt. Gary Collins, spokesman for the Simi Valley Police Officers Assn. "Our response is, 'Go ahead, do it; but either put up or shut up.' "

The exchange follows a breakdown in contract negotiations two weeks ago between the city and the union. Officers have worked without a contract since July 1, when the impasse was reached over the officers' demands for a 9% salary increase over two years and a workweek of four 10-hour days. The officers 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, Santa Monica, Torrance and Glendale.

24% Increase Offered

The city has offered a salary increase of as much as 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.

Last week, 27 police officers, including SWAT team members, resigned from volunteer duty assignments to protest the city's offer.

And over the weekend, leaflets distributed by the department's 85 officers, sergeants and detectives accused the city of being cheap and of treating "crooks" better than its police force.

Stratton said that he was angered by the officers' tactics and that he believes that it would be cheaper for the city to contract with the Sheriff's Department than to retain its own force.

No Studies Done

But Laura Wylie, the city's personnel director, said no studies have been done to determine the relative costs. She said Thousand Oaks, a nearby city of comparable size with more than 100,000 people, contracts with the Sheriff's Department and will spend about $6.3 million this fiscal year on police services. That amount reflects all costs, including an operating budget and the salaries of 108 employees.

Simi Valley has budgeted more than $10 million for police services, Wylie said, but the city has 156 employees in its Police Department.

Councilman Bill Davis said disbanding the Police Department is not an option that he would seriously consider unless the officers strike.

Collins said, "The guys are not in that kind of mood yet."

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