An experienced LAPD officer retires, collects his accumulated pension benefits, takes a few weeks of vacation and then returns to work and his $299,000-a-year job as if nothing happened — except for the fact that he’s now richer to the tune of, say, $1.27 million.
That’s how much new Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore collected by quietly retiring before getting the department’s top job.
They call it the “bounce,” and it works together with something called DROP, but there are some saltier words that come to mind. Moore apparently played by the rules, but all that tells us is that there is something seriously wrong with the rules. Any system that virtually begs to be gamed needs to be revamped.
The Times reported on Saturday that Moore was one of the many Los Angeles police officers and firefighters who have taken part in the Deferred Retirement Option Program, better known as DROP. Rather than retiring and taking their pensions as soon as they are eligible, participants stay on for another five years and keep drawing their salaries at the same time as their pension benefits, which are banked. After the bonus term is up, the department pays them the banked benefits and the interest earned as a lump sum, at which point they retire and start receiving their regular monthly pension checks.
That’s not the scam, at least not in and of itself. The voter-approved program was created to keep badly needed senior staff on the job, but it didn’t work the way it was intended. As The Times reported earlier this year, many officers and firefighters file disability claims soon — sometimes within days — after signing up for DROP. So they get the benefit of both retiring (no longer working, albeit technically on disability leave) and not retiring (getting their salaries while banking their pensions).
Few employee-retirees who play that game actually fake their injuries. They had worked for decades at jobs that take a serious toll on their bodies. But the system gives them a financial incentive to file for disability at the end of their careers.
No, Moore didn’t file for injury leave. But as The Times reported, he signed up for DROP five years ago and would have taken his mandatory retirement when his bonus term expired in January — except for the “bounce,” a program under which the chief of police (then Charlie Beck) can rehire a key employee with special skills. Moore is a whiz at statistics and was not easily replaceable as chief of operations.
Beck brought Moore back — and then announced his own retirement.
Chiefs, by the way, aren’t eligible for DROP. When Beck was promoted to chief in 2009, he had to give up a DROP payment of about $350,000. Becoming chief was worth it, at least in Beck’s mind. But why choose if you don’t have to? By retiring first, Moore, like so many others, got the benefit of both retiring and not retiring.
If Moore had stayed on the job when applying for chief the way Beck had, he wouldn’t have gotten his DROP payment. But as The Times story notes, Beck came to Moore with the retirement idea last fall.
Surely Beck and Moore both see how this looks: like a plot to squeeze $1.27 million out of the city treasury while still allowing Moore to serve as chief.
They say they didn’t have that in mind. Moore says he didn’t know Beck was going to retire early, leaving the job open for him. OK. If they say so.
And even if they did plan this whole thing out, it apparently would still be legal.