More than 300 Los Angeles Police Department officers and family members packed a City Council meeting Tuesday to demand across-the-board pay increases, warning that the department will lose officers to other cities if a raise isn't provided.
Nearly a month after officers rejected a one-year contract offer from the city, officials with the Police Protective League said the LAPD's starting salary has fallen behind at least 13 other Southern California law enforcement agencies. LAPD employees are already heading to other departments, they said.
"Our officers are not without alternatives. Experienced and well-trained officers are desired by police and sheriff's departments throughout Southern California," said league President Tyler Izen, whose union represents about 9,900 officers.
Mayor Eric Garcetti and council members have been trying to hold the line on raises across the city workforce as part of a larger strategy to limit the growth of pension costs and erase a spending deficit by 2018. The city budget's yearly contribution for the retirement benefits of police and firefighters is expected to quadruple, from $175 million in 2005 to $710 million in 2016, according to a report submitted to the council in April. Each increase consumes money that could be used to pay for basic services.
The contract rejected by officers three weeks ago would have hiked the pay of nearly 1,000 officers who were hired since 2009 with a salary 20% lower than their counterparts. The deal also would have increased the amount of cash overtime paid to officers this year to $70 million, up from $15 million last year. And it would have boosted the starting salary of officers from $49,924 a year to $57,420.
Even with that increase, starting pay would remain below police agencies in Santa Monica, Simi Valley, Newport Beach and elsewhere, according to league officials. Officer Peter Repovich, who serves on the union's board, said the LAPD should be at the top of any salary survey of the region's police agencies.
Council members are scheduled to meet behind closed doors Wednesday to receive an update on the salary talks. Council President Herb Wesson declined to discuss the contract, and a spokesman for Garcetti -- who is out of the city on vacation -- referred The Times to a video recorded last week by the mayor on the contract's provisions.
Councilman Bernard C. Parks, a former police chief who was at odds with the league, responded to Tuesday's testimony by noting that city employee pension costs are still growing substantially. Although the city's financial picture has improved, "the problem is not even close to being solved," he said.
LAPD officers did not receive any raises between 2009 and 2011. As the city emerged from the recession, small increases were awarded: 1% on July 1, 2012; 2% on Jan. 1, 2013; 1% on July 1, 2013; 1% on Nov. 1 and 2% in March.
In recent months, budget officials have urged lawmakers to hold off on pay increases -- not just for police but for other employee groups. Sgt. Jerretta Sandoz said police officers should not be lumped in with other city workers when it comes to salary talks.
"A common theme that we have heard from the city is that 'If we give you a raise, we have to give the other 43 unions a raise,'" said Sandoz, who serves on the league's board. "While we have great respect for our civilian brothers and sisters and recognize the work that they do, comparing us to civilian workers is like comparing apples to oranges.
"LAPD officers are the best of the best. We're world class," she later added. "You have to pay us like we're world class or else Torrance, Santa Monica, Redondo Beach -- they'll be taking us."