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Nurses push for LAPD gut-check

Times Staff Writers

When Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa promised to expand the city’s police force, he probably didn’t mean it like this: A group of city nurses Friday charged that officials upped some of the numbers by accepting recruits with larger waistlines.

The controversy stems from a decision by the city Personnel Department to change the standards for police recruits, including a move to raise the maximum body fat allowed for men to 24% from 22%, and for women to 32% from 30%. Body fat -- the percentage of a person’s body that is not bone, muscle, organs or water -- is measured using calipers applied to areas such as the waist, where fat can accumulate.

The standards were relaxed two years ago by city bureaucrats after the mayor pledged to add 1,000 officers to the Los Angeles Police Department. But only in recent months -- as recruit classes graduated with some heavy-set rookies -- did the controversy balloon.

After addressing one recent academy class, the mayor was overheard commenting on the expanded girth of some graduates. Through a spokesman, the mayor declined to elaborate Friday.

“My concern is we are getting police officers through the system who are grossly overweight,” said City Councilman Dennis Zine, a former LAPD sergeant who himself carries a few extra pounds nowadays. “I believe it is part of this mad rush for new police officers, but they were replacing quality with quantity.”

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On Friday, Deanna Stover, the medical administrator for the Personnel Department, resigned after nurses signed a letter protesting the clearing of recruits who were out of shape.

“When the medical services administration decided internally to make this change, it was purely to ‘boost’ the number of candidates that would pass the exam and address a short-term problem of low pass rates,” says the letter signed by six nurses who conduct the tests.

“Such an increase would make our department and therefore our ‘administrator’ appear more effective. This decision was purely self-serving and without consideration of our medical expertise or regard to the long-term fallout to the Police Department in the way of candidates’ failures, injuries or potential lawsuits.”

The nurses said Stover told them that it was up to the Police Academy to get the recruits into good physical shape during the grueling eight months of training. Department administrators said Friday that they would return to the old, tougher body-fat standards.

“At the request of the Police Academy, we’ve made the change back,” said Gloria Sosa, assistant general manager for the Personnel Department, which conducts the health screenings for police recruits.

That was welcomed by LAPD Cmdr. Kenneth Garner, who said the standards needed to be “corrected.”

Stover did not return calls seeking comment.

Sosa said that Stover, a resident of Running Springs, had decided to resign so that she could focus more attention on her education as she enters a critical period for preparing a dissertation for her doctorate.

Sosa said she met with the nurses Friday and assured them they would not be blamed for criticism of a policy enacted by department management.

Zine said he is glad the tougher standard is being reapplied, but he still is upset that the standard was lowered without City Council consultation and approval, and he worries about officers who were let in who may have weight problems.

“I was at the academy recently, and some of them are so out of shape it is ridiculous,” Zine said. “My concern is some of these people might end up with back problems or heart problems. It’s an added liability for the city.”

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com


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