* Lawmakers trying to cut pensions accuse police of
* Police say cities are scapegoating them for budget
By Tim Reid
Jan 16 A drive by some American cities to cut
costly police retirement benefits has led to an extraordinary
face-off between local politicians and the law enforcement
officers who work for them.
In Costa Mesa, California, lawmaker Jim Righeimer says he
was a target of intimidation because he sought to curb police
pensions. In a lawsuit in November, Righeimer accused the Costa
Mesa police union and a law firm that once represented them, of
forcing him to undergo a sobriety test (he passed) after driving
home from a bar in August 2012.
That followed a call to 911 by private detective Chris
Lanzillo, who worked for the police union and the law firm that
represented it, according to the suit. Lanzillo is also named as
a defendant, accused of following Righeimer home from the bar.
Disputes such as these have intensified as Detroit and two
California cities, Stockton and San Bernardino, have gone
bankrupt in the past two years. Police pension costs were a
major factor in the financial troubles facing all three. Now
large cities, including San Jose and San Diego, say they have no
choice but to alter pension agreements lest they end up in
The suit by lawmaker Righeimer also said that an FBI raid of
the law firm last October uncovered evidence that an electronic
tracking device had been attached to the underside of the car
driven by another lawmaker, Steve Mensinger, one of Righeimer's
allies in the pension fight.
"What we are alleging is a conspiracy to gather information
against political opponents", said John Manly, a lawyer
representing Righeimer and Mensinger.
Calls to Lanzillo's lawyers went unanswered. Lanzillo is not
listed in any public directory.
The FBI confirmed that some of its agents were present at
the raid, but referred all other questions to the Orange County
district attorney, which applied for the search warrant. Robert
Mestman, senior deputy district attorney, said: "I cannot
comment. It is a pending investigation."
The police union, the Costa Mesa Police Association, denies
any knowledge of the purported tactics. It fired the law firm,
Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir, after allegations of the
harassment first surfaced. Several calls to the lawyer
representing the firm, which is in the process of being wound
down, went unanswered.
'IN A DIFFERENT AGE'
For many city and county governments, police are by far
their largest single cost. For example, in the California city
of Desert Hot Springs, which is teetering on bankruptcy, 70
percent of the budget is spent on police salaries and pensions.
"There was a time when no politician would dare to cut back
on public safety, let alone their pensions," said David Harris,
a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh and a specialist
in police and police behavior. "Now we are in a different age."
Police union officials claim there is a push by conservative
political operatives to take away promised pensions from public
servants who do a physically demanding and dangerous jobs, and
that police officers are being forced to pay for officials'
incompetent management of city finances.
In Stockton, when then city manager Bob Deis warned in 2011
that police layoffs might be necessary, the police union bought
the house next to his and immediately began noisy renovations.
"It's like being a party in a law case and the other side
buys the house next to yours," said Deis, who retired late last
year. He and his wife sued with allegations of intimidation, in
a case that has since been settled. The noise has stopped and
the police union has agreed to sell the house within two years.
The police union had also erected a giant billboard
welcoming visitors to the "2nd most dangerous city in
California" with Deis's phone number on it. The billboard has
been taken down.
Kathryn Nance, president of the Stockton Police Officers'
Association, denied that the union ever tried to intimidate
Deis. "Obviously that is his opinion," Nance said. "His
allegation is ridiculous, at best."
FLURRY OF PARKING TICKETS
There also have been allegations of intimidation by police
in Cranston, Rhode Island.
On Jan. 9, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung announced that state
police will take over an investigation into a flurry of parking
tickets issued in the wards of two council members. The pair
claim the tickets were issued as retribution after they voted
against a new contract for police that would have given them a
Fung announced that Police Chief Marco Palombo Jr. had been
placed on administrative leave while the Rhode Island state
police investigate the parking ticket allegations.
Fung said "new allegations" had emerged about the conduct
of police that was troubling, and that a number of police
officers are under suspicion of misconduct.
"The Cranston police were definitely sending us a message,"
said Paul H. Archetto, one of the councilmen. "It's intimidation
and an abuse of power."
Major Robert Ryan, a spokesman for the Cranston Police
Department, said: "The matter is under investigation, and
pursuant to law enforcement's bill of rights, no-one is going to
comment on this."
Ryan said the police chief was unavailable for comment.
Police union leaders say their members are being victimized
by some local politicians.
"They are using scare tactics by telling the public that
cities are going broke because of public pensions," said Chuck
Canterbury, the national president of the Fraternal Order of
Police, which represents more than 325,000 officers.
"Most police officers contributed every month to their
pensions. The cities in trouble did not do the same," Canterbury
said. "When the economy got bad and the investment returns did
not live up to the standard, all of a sudden they say it was the
unions that got greedy."
Ron DeLord, a former Texas policeman and consultant to
police unions in the United States and abroad said the view of
many rank-and-file officers is that they are up against forces
who do not wish to negotiate.
In 2008 DeLord told officers in American Police Beat
Magazine to "get dirty and fight to win," by getting personal
with reformist council members and to "bloody their noses."
DeLord told Reuters last month that he had learnt to be more
collaborative since 2008, but said of the "get dirty" message:
"I wrote it. I believe it."