Los Angeles police arrested one of their retired officers on Thursday on suspicion of workers’ compensation fraud while enrolled in a controversial program that pays veteran cops and firefighters their salary and pension simultaneously for up to five years.
Former Police Officer Terry Johns joined the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, or DROP, in July 2014. The next month he filed a workers’ compensation claim for a bad back, public records show.
He then took a long injury leave, collecting nearly $250,000 in pension and salary for the time off, according to city payroll data. He retired in 2016.
At a news conference Thursday, Police Chief Charlie Beck said internal affairs investigators had observed Johns engaged in activity “inconsistent” with his claimed injuries but refused to offer further details.
The DROP program was approved by voters in 2001 with a promise that it would keep veteran officers on the job a few years longer with no additional cost to the city.
A Times investigation published last month found more than 1,200 public safety officers had joined DROP and then gone out with injuries — typically bad backs, sore knees and other ailments of aging bodies — turning the program into an extended leave at nearly twice the pay.
The program has paid out more than $1.6 billion in extra pension checks since its inception in 2002, The Times found.
Nearly half of participants who entered DROP from July 2008 to July 2017 subsequently took injury leaves. Their average absence was 10 months, but hundreds stayed out for more than a year.
Two married LAPD officers joined DROP, then went out with carpal tunnel syndrome and other cumulative injuries. They missed more than two years, and spent some of that time starting a family business and vacationing at their condo in Cabo, The Times found. They collected nearly $2 million in salary and pension while in the program.
A firefighter in DROP who filed a claim for a bad back and a sore knee worked part time as a longshoreman at L.A. Harbor while on injury leave from the department, according to one of the doctors who examined him in the course of his workers’ compensation case.
Mayor Eric Garcetti and key members of the City Council called for a thorough review of the program last month following The Times’ investigation.
But Garcetti and the council ignored a report from the city administrative officer in 2016 warning the program was not, and never had been, “cost neutral” as promised to voters and was no longer necessary to retain veteran officers.
Johns, 56, spent 32 years on the LAPD, according to a department news release. He was arrested and booked into the Riverside County jail where he was being held on $160,000 bond, Beck said.
Johns did not respond to a request for comment left on his answering machine.
Johns is the first DROP participant arrested on suspicion of workers’ compensation fraud, Beck said, adding that he isn’t aware of any other ongoing investigations of program participants.
“There is a difficulty to prosecute police officers and there is a reluctance to prosecute police officers, and I’m glad about that in many ways,” Beck said.
But the department takes workers’ compensation fraud seriously, Beck said, adding that three officers who are not in the DROP program have been arrested this year.