Police turn up heat on council in contract fight

The contract dispute between the city of Hermosa Beach and the union representing its rank-and-file police officers burst into City Hall Tuesday when department boosters swarmed a meeting of the City Council, underlining the stakes surrounding the labor negotiations.

The contract between the city and employees represented by the Hermosa Beach Police Officers Association expired July 1. Negotiations have been ongoing since April, and both sides describe an impasse overcompensation.

The negotiations, as is the case with other municipal employee bargaining groups, have taken place behind closed doors, and until last month news of them largely stayed there. Then, after Thanksgiving, the Hermosa POA began sending out mailers and releasing online videos stating their case. One featured a picture of a balaclava-clad intruder and read “2019 was a great year in Hermosa Beach — for criminals.”

Several officers have left the department in recent months, and at least two more are planning to leave soon, all exiting for cities where they say they will be able to make more money. The officers association campaign contends that intransigence on the part of elected officials and City Manager Suja Lowenthal is threatening the safety of Hermosa residents.

The small sample size of some of the offenses cited, however, makes it difficult to infer that a crime wave is sweeping the city. A recent monthly crime report, apparently the source of some of the figures in the association’s mailer and prepared by HBPD crime analyst Jenette Osborne, said that “As in all statistical comparisons, caution should be used in interpreting percent changes. When smaller numbers are compared, the result is a greater percentage change: in other words, a more dramatic result is achieved.”

But while the threshold of statistical significance may be elusive, the emotional connection between residents and their hometown department was not. Officers have shared stories of feeling overwhelmed and overworked. And although the city has said that it has not considered contracting with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, officers say it is the inevitable result of a department winnowed by attrition and unable to attract new officers. These efforts clearly resonated, with “Save our Hermosa Beach Police” yard signs sprouting in front yards all over town, and a sea of people wearing identically sloganed white t-shirts surging into City Hall Tuesday night.

“Have you ever felt underappreciated in your job, your career, your profession? Have you ever felt undervalued, and have you ever felt underpaid? Have you ever?” resident Margo Hersey asked the council. “Well think about this: Our officers go out every day. They feel undervalued. They’re definitely underpaid. And they certainly are underappreciated.”

Hersey, like many, spoke in favor of the officer association’s request for the new contract to include a 30 percent pay increase over three years. In a statement issued Friday, the city said that it “provided its last, best and final offer on Dec. 4, which includes a pay increase of 13 percent over three years.”

City officials did not publicly explain the reason for the wide gap between what officers are seeking and what the city is offering. (There was nothing agendized related to police compensation at Tuesday night’s meeting, nor is there likely to be anything until a contract is ready for consideration; the large number of people at the meeting was evidently due to a request in the association’s mailers to turn out in support of the department.) The Friday statement and other previous comments by elected officials, however, indicate that the rationale is budgetary pressure. The police department constituted 41.2 percent of the most recent city budget, adopted in June; the officers association contends that existing surpluses, or a realignment of municipal priorities, could fund the increases officers are seeking.


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