What the People of Los Angeles Should Know About Their Police Department

Angelenos should know their police department is run by a five-member Board of Police Commissioners, not by the Chief of Police. They should know the Chief reports to the board, not to the mayor. People should know the LAPD is shielded from inappropriate political pressures; but as a civil service organization, it is accountable to the public.

Angelenos should also know their Police Department is widely recognized as a model law enforcement agency. Over the years, it has benefitted from outstanding leadership and has served the city in a highly professional manner.

But providing police protection in Los Angeles is expensive. The Police Department is by far the largest department funded in the city’s 2010-11 budget. It’s authorized to maintain a total workforce — sworn and civilian — of 13,734 employees. Moreover, it’s authorized to spend a total appropriation of $1,770,500,035. And of that total, 96 percent—$1,135,208,000—will go just for employee salaries!

By itself, the size of this expenditure demands that police personnel be exceptionally well-managed. Yet with respect to performance appraisal (a key component of personnel management), civilian employees in the police department are grossly mismanaged.

Consider. In a recent year, the police department had a civilian workforce of over 3,700 employees, representing 126 incredibly diverse job classes. Yet as probationers, they were all lumped together and rated on the same, one-size-fits-all trait list.

Police psychologists and auto painters were rated on the Department’s Probationary Civilian Evaluation Report. So were equine keepers and clerk typists, fingerprint identification experts and upholsterers, and appointees from 120 other classifications.

The problem is, probationary ratings are employment tests. Like other tests used in employee selection, they must accurately reflect the job performance of individual employees. But probationary ratings used in the police department don’t meet that requirement. According to a former personnel department manager, such ratings would probably not survive legal challenge. That heightens the risk of costly litigation.

And the use of invalid probationary ratings creates other problems as well. It limits the Department’s ability to keep marginal employees off the payroll. It lets employees who haven’t been fully tested become career employees. It gives them property rights to their jobs without requiring them to prove their fitness for those jobs. Ultimately, invalid working tests stifle efficiency in—and raise the cost of—the civilian workforce.

The good news is that invalid ratings can easily be replaced. A new, state-of-the-art appraisal system could be field-tested in a single police department work unit. This new, Tasks & Standards system would compare what probationers actually do on the job against what they were assigned to do. It would measure their job performance against established, job-specific performance standards. And it would finally bring the police department’s ratings for probationary civilians in line with Civil Service Rule 1.26.

Hopefully, the police commission will soon investigate the scandalous use of invalid working tests, and call for the field-testing of a new Tasks & Standards rating system.

Reporter’s Note: The Police Department’s evaluation of sworn employees also needs to be reviewed. But to date, I’ve not been able to get current information on this subject.

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