Thursday, June 20, 2002
Hearing Set on Bid by South Gate Police for TRO to Block Schedule Change
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge yesterday set a July 3 hearing date for a temporary restraining order that would keep the South Gate City Council from implementing a schedule change for city police officers.
The city’s police unions say the change is aimed at restricting their ability to further a recall effort against the council majority and Treasurer Albert Robles.
Members of the South Gate Police Officers’ Association and the Police Management Association asked Judge Dzintra I. Janavs for the hearing to block the city from changing the officers’ schedules from the current three 12-hour days to five eight-hour days.
Janavs declined to grant the temporary restraining order yesterday, but set an expedited hearing schedule.
Sylvia Kellison, attorney for the officers, argued Robles and the council recall targets—Mayor Raul Moriel, Vice Mayor Xochilt Ruvalcaba, and Councilwoman Maria Benavides—were making the switch to prevent officers, who support the recall effort, from gaining the necessary signatures.
“If [Robles] can’t have the city and run it the way he wants, he’s going to destroy it,” Kellison told the MetNews.
According to the plaintiffs’ application for a TRO, Robles told Councilman Henry Gonzales “I’m going to f--- the police department.”
About a month later, the plaintiffs allege, SGPOA President Al Lopez told Robles he did not want to see the officers’ schedule change, to which Robles replied that a 5/8 plan would “keep you guys from getting more signatures for the recall.”
Clifton Albright, representing the city, denied the switch was retaliatory and said the decision was aimed at increasing police presence in the city, given the increased number of terrorist warnings in recent months.
“There is no punitive or any other motivation for it,” he said.
But officers contend the switch will decrease their coverage of the city’s 7.5 square miles when they need it the most, on the weekends and at night.
“It’s going to spread us too thin,” Investigator Hannah Campos, a 12-year veteran of the force, said.
Also at issue is a City Council order, which went into effect Sunday, that requires all officers not specially assigned to an undercover detail to wear a full uniform, a departure from the current practice that officers and detectives who routinely interview witnesses dress in plainclothes.
Campos said the change puts not only the officers, but the community in harm’s way. Witnesses to a crime who talk with uniformed police officers could be in danger if seen by the suspect or his affiliates, she said.
“You might as well put a target signal on those witnesses,” Kellison said.
But Albright countered that police officers know that wearing a uniform is part of the job.
“It’s like saying I want to be a firefighter, but I don’t want to drive a fire truck or wear a firefighter’s uniform because somebody might want me to fight fires,” Albright said.
Kellison also claims the creation of two management positions, an assistant chief and a deputy chief, violates the contract the PMA has with the city because the decision made unilaterally without consulting the association.
The TRO request also asks that the city be prevented from implementing any bilingual requirement for the chief of police, attempting to contract out police services to the Sheriff’s Department, taking any further reprisals against the officers, and violating the SGPMA’s Memorandum of Understanding which prohibits selecting a chief of police who is not a South Gate lieutenant or captain.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company