Where are the police we paid for?
When the City Council voted to raise trash fees in 2006, the action came with a promise to Angelenos that the money would be put toward expanding the Los Angeles police force to more than 10,000 officers. But even as we’ve moved closer to meeting that goal on paper, the number of officers on the street is being eroded.
Because of attrition, early retirement incentives and mandatory furloughs, the number of police officers doing actual police work is gradually declining, and the problem is becoming more acute.
One huge reason is that the city is no longer paying officers for overtime. There is no way to avoid overtime in police work: An officer making an arrest, say, can’t simply let a suspect go because a work shift has ended. But now, rather than paying for that overtime, the department requires officers to “bank” the extra hours for future use in the form of time off. In order to avoid having to pay out overtime money, the LAPD has begun to force officers to use their banked time off as soon as they reach overtime balances of more than 250 hours. This overtime compensation change alone has meant that, over the course of a month, about 540 fewer officers are performing their regular duties.
Another big problem is the use of sworn officers to do jobs that should be performed by civilians. With a city hiring freeze in effect, essential administrative jobs previously held by civilians can’t be filled and so are being performed by police officers. Some 154 officers are now carrying out the work of civilians. Come February, things will get even worse as the LAPD implements its plan to pull nearly 90 officers off the streets to staff the new Metropolitan Detention Center in lieu of hiring civilian jailers.
In total, the LAPD will have removed more than 775 officers from the streets come February.
City leaders very well know they could not have passed their plan in 2006 to charge higher trash fees without the promise to increase the size of the LAPD. What voters don’t realize today is that the promise has turned into a sham because of the huge number of officers being sent home or put to work in capacities other than protecting the community.
No matter how one looks at it, reassigning police officers to non-law enforcement duties while touting an expansion of the police force is disingenuous and dishonest.
If the department continues enforcing its overtime policy, the number of officers forced to take time off will climb as the overtime balances of many more officers reach the 250-hour mark. In response, and in a graphic demonstration of their desire to serve the people of Los Angeles, a number of experienced and dedicated homicide detectives have donated some of their banked time off to a Catastrophic Leave Fund that benefits officers in need of time off for extreme family emergencies or illness. The detectives have done this to lower their overtime balances so they can stay at work and do their jobs. But police shouldn’t have to work for free.
Everyone agrees that the closure of the Parker Center jail is long overdue. But it is not prudent or fiscally responsible for sworn police officers to work as jailers at the new detention center. It isn’t the job they were hired to do. Moreover, it represents a poor return on the significant investment that city taxpayers have made in training the men and women of the LAPD.
So what can we do? It is time to end the shell game. City leaders must revisit their policy decisions that force Chief Charlie Beck to staff civilian assignments with sworn LAPD officers. The overtime policy also should be revisited. It’s time to consider temporarily halting the hiring of new officers in order to be able to afford to fill vital administrative jobs with civilians and allow LAPD officers to be deployed in their proper law enforcement roles.
The residents of Los Angeles placed their trust in city leaders to keep their word when they were told in 2006 that the higher trash fees they’d be paying would be used to expand police service. They also trusted their city officials to be good stewards of the general fund by using that money for what it was intended and by using city employees in accordance with their job classifications. That trust has been violated.
Having officers, detectives and specialized resources working on the street is particularly important today, given heightened terrorism concerns both locally and abroad. On top of that, a growing number of parolees are back out on the streets after being released as part of the state’s drive to save money. The department has done an excellent job of reducing crime in recent years, but maintaining those gains requires a full contingent of officers doing the work they’ve been trained to do.
Paul M. Weber is president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League.