Isn't Some Fair Deal Possible? : Cash-strapped city struggles to offer police a decent contract

Superior Court Judge Robert O'Brien's temporary restraining order against the Los Angeles police sickout provides a useful cooling-off period in a long-simmering labor dispute.

No doubt Mayor Richard Riordan, who was endorsed during the mayoral campaign by the police union, is as eager as anyone to find some money for the police.

City Council members insist that the city does not have the money to guarantee the raises sought by the 7,500-member police union.

Would it help the situation if an independent expert performed an audit of city funds? This was a modality that helped to resolve a similar impasse between the teachers union and the Board of Education. Independent scrutiny of the city's books might not turn up extra money but it might yield creative financing methods that would allow the city some flexibility.

The police officers on the whole have been reasonable in their demands--especially in view of the 9% raise over three years recently won by Department of Water and Power workers. Granted, DWP employers laid claim on revenues in a separate fund. But the mere fact that utility workers were able to get a raise that the police can't seem to get is terribly galling to the officers--and understandably so.

The police union wants a contract providing for a 3% raise for each of three years over a four-year period. The officers have had no cost-of-living adjustment for two years and no contract for 18 months. Everyone agrees that they deserve better. But the question remains: Is there money to give them better?

The LAPD is understaffed and ill-equipped. Mayor Riordan and Chief Willie L. Williams, who both support police raises, are working to increase the size of the department and to implement the reforms recommended by the Christopher Commission. It's not surprising that many people hope this needed expansion won't take place at the expense of veteran cops who have endured the Rodney King police beating controversy, the subsequent trials, the riots and the department-shaking resignation of the previous chief.

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