Wednesday, July 10, 2002
South Gate Appeals Order Barring Work Changes for Police
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
The city of South Gate has appealed a Los Angeles Superior Court judge’s order to stop implementation of work schedule changes for the city’s police officers, but a dispute over exactly what effect the appeal has on the order has led city officials to direct officers to follow the very changes the police sued to get rid of.
The appeal, filed Monday with this district’s Court of Appeal, challenges a preliminary injunction issued last week by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs barring the city from switching to a new five-day workweek for officers and a policy requiring all officers not specifically assigned to an undercover detail to wear uniforms.
The city had imposed the schedule change and uniform policy last month after hiring a new police chief.
Janavs’ order also prevents the city from forcing officers with already approved second jobs to seek approval from the new acting chief, Rick Lopez, and requires the city to meet and confer before implementing any change in working conditions for department personnel.
Janavs granted the preliminary injunction after protests by the department’s two unions, one representing management and one representing the rank and file. But she declined to block the Lopez’s appointment and denied a request from the unions for a preliminary injunction for several other city policies pertaining to the chief’s office.
Officers have accused city officials of lashing out at them by instituting the new work policies as retaliation for their support of the recall effort against the City Council majority.
Before ruling on the application for a temporary restraining order against several city actions, Janavs said there was “strong evidence” of retaliation on certain issues.
But after the appeal was filed, officers say things returned back to the way they were before they took the city to court.
“It is the city’s position that it was a mandatory injunction that was commanding us to do something and that order...is stayed for now,” attorney Steven L. Rader, who is representing the city, said.
Sylvia Kellison, representing the officers, sharply disputed Rader’s reading of the order, saying the injunction was prohibitory, not mandatory, and therefore the order was not automatically stayed when the appeal was filed.
“I didn’t think they would be that brazen,” Kellison said of the appeal.
Officers were informed yesterday by department officials that the appeal meant sticking to the “5/8” schedule instead of the “3/12-4/12” hybrid schedule, which has been in place since 1993, and a continuation of the mandatory uniform rule, Acting Lt. Al Lopez, president of the South Gate Police Officers’ Association, said.
The City Council voted three weeks ago to make the change to a “5/8” and the new schedule was put in place June 24, the same day Acting Chief Lopez took office.
The switch, union leaders claim, was masterminded by Robles and Mayor Xochilt Ruvalcaba to prevent officers from participating in the recall effort against them and the other recall targets, Vice Mayor Raul Moriel and Councilwoman Maria Benavides.
Officers are prohibited from engaging in political activity while in uniform, which means breaks and lunch time are off limits for recall efforts.
“They’re trying to destroy us because of the recall,” Lopez said.
Unlike other cities where such scheduling changes are made only after exhaustive studies, South Gate officials enacted the “3/12” without any kind of research or study, Lopez said.
“There was no feasibility study done,” he said. “They asked the captains if they could come up with a 5/8 schedule and they did.”
The department had been scheduled to make the switch to the hybrid schedule this week, but news of the appeal derailed those plans, forcing officers to scramble to rearrange their personal lives, Al Lopez said.
“It disrupted whole families,” Lopez said, adding that officers with children must now find last minute daycare.
Representatives from the police unions argue the city’s uniform policy endangers officers by making detectives, who normally wear plain clothes when interviewing witnesses, easily identifiable to suspects. The policy could also place witnesses in danger if they are seen talking to uniformed officers, Kellison said.
“It’s dangerous for the officers,” she said. “It’s dangerous for the public.”
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company