TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ A proposed settlement to black police officers' 9-year-old discrimination lawsuit is fair, saves money and puts the divisive litigation in Tulsa's past, Mayor Bill LaFortune testified Tuesday.
The mayor also said the agreement between the city and plaintiffs _ which the Tulsa police officers' union opposes _ offers progressive solutions and avoids what could be an ugly, expensive trial.
LaFortune was the first witness at a hearing to determine the fairness of the settlement, which was filed Dec. 3. The mayor testified for nearly three hours Tuesday, nearly all of it under cross examination by an attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police.
``The settlement is a golden opportunity to resolve this nearly decade-old litigation and to allow the city and the department to move forward,'' the mayor said. ``A trial would be destructive to our department and our city.''
The 1994 lawsuit filed by the Black Officers Coalition alleges blacks face a segregated work environment, are discriminated against in hiring and promotions, get no help when calling for backup and face retaliation if they complain of discrimination.
The proposed agreement states that the department's hiring and promotions are to be based on merit, and that the police force must adhere to its policy against racial profiling. The city admits no wrongdoing.
Also, the department will apply within 120 days for professional accreditation by a national law enforcement association. Further, the city will collect data on officers and their policing activities so an independent auditor can monitor compliance.
U.S. District Judge Sven Erik Holmes rejected a previous proposal _ reached in April by former Mayor Susan Savage _ after LaFortune withdrew his support during that proposal's August hearing.
The FOP has said the settlement will violate its rights as the sole collective bargaining agent for the Tulsa Police Department. About 200 individual officers have also filed their own objections.
The settlement would cost about $5.9 million over five years to implement, while the rejected proposal would have cost between $3 million and $9 million, the mayor said.
The consent decree contains a provision stating that all new policies are to be implemented with consideration to the union's contract. James Phillips, attorney for the FOP, which has been allowed to intervene in the case, asked the mayor if that's enough protection.
``I believe the provisions in the new consent decree related to the collective bargaining agreement do address the concerns,'' the mayor said.
Phillips also said the police union was only given two hours during the last settlement negotiations, which lasted about four days, to present its case.
``All parties were given a chance to contribute,'' the mayor responded. ``You can be given a seat at the table, it's what you do with it.''
The mayor denied under questioning that the department has discriminated against blacks nor violated anyone's civil rights, drawing groans from the handful of black citizens in the audience.
He also acknowledged after Phillips' questions that the settlement's data collection provision could be used to punish officers or evaluate them for promotions.