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LAPD chief endorses reform to controversial retirement program that paid him $1.27 million

LAPD chief endorses reform to controversial retirement program that paid him $1.27 million
Michel Moore with Mayor Eric Garcetti (Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said Tuesday that the controversial retirement plan that recently paid him $1.27 million is ripe for reform.

The Deferred Retirement Option Plan, which pays veteran cops and firefighters essentially double for the last five years of their careers, “would benefit from some adjustments,” Moore said.

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Moore spoke at the end of the weekly police commission meeting three days after The Times reported his windfall seven-figure payment and the very brief, highly unusual retirement that allowed him to collect the cash.

Police Commission President Steve Soboroff agreed with Moore, saying, “I think the program needs a lot of work.”

DROP, as its known, pays city police and firefighters who are at least 50 years old and have 25 years of service their salaries and pensions simultaneously for up to five years.

The program was sold to voters in 2000 as a way to retain the most experienced officers and give their departments time to plan for their replacements.

In February, the Times reported that nearly half of all cops and firefighters who have entered the program — which has paid out more than $1.6 billion in extra pension checks — subsequently went on injury leave, typically for cumulative injuries like sore knees and bad backs that afflict aging bodies regardless of profession.

Their average time off was nearly 10 months, but hundreds missed more than a year.

That list includes a police officer who claimed injuries to his back, shoulders, knees and hips but then was found teaching diving lessons at a SCUBA shop he owns; and a police captain who collected $1.5 million from the program despite missing nearly three years due to knee pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and injuries he said he suffered falling out of an office chair.

“Those are horrible abuses,” Soboroff said.

Moore’s proposed change, which has also received public support from Mayor Eric Garcetti and former Police Chief Charlie Beck, would discontinue pension payments to police officers and firefighters while they are out on extended injury leaves.

In such cases, the officer would still receive a salary but pension payments would not resume until they returned to work.

City officials say they are still negotiating changes to the program with the police and firefighters unions.

During his five years in the program, Moore collected his nearly $300,000 annual pay while his roughly $240,000 pension payments went into a special DROP account held by the city. When he retired at the end of January, the $1.27 million in the account — which included 5% interest — was paid to him in a lump sum.

He wasn’t gone long. Through a highly unusual maneuver known as “the bounce,” Chief Beck brought Moore back into his old job at his old pay at the beginning of March.

Moore’s return was supposed to be temporary, lasting only until Beck could find a suitable replacement for Moore.

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But Beck retired in June and Moore was promoted to take his place.

Today, Moore collects nearly $600,000 a year from city coffers — about $350,000 a year in salary from the Police Department and his $240,000 a year from the police and fire pension fund.

Many other cities, including San Diego and San Francisco, experimented with DROP programs before abandoning them because of the cost. Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who initiated the program as a way to appease the police union during a tumultuous period in city politics, recently told The Times it was a mistake.

Moore, asked on Tuesday whether he had expected to get rich from his city service when he became a police officer 36 years ago, turned his back and walked away.

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