Editorial: Why so many injury claims from L.A. public safety workers?

A look at the injury leave of police and firefighters in L.A.


Los Angeles’ police and firefighters take paid injury leave at significantly higher rates than public safety employees elsewhere in California. Why? Is it more strenuous or stressful to work in the city of Los Angeles, compared with L.A. County or Long Beach? Does the city have an older workforce more prone to injury? Or is it just so easy to game the system in L.A. that filing an injury claim has become a routine matter in the police and fire departments?

A Times investigation on Sunday revealed that 1 in 5 Los Angeles police officers and firefighters took paid injury leave at least once last year, and that not only are the number of leaves going up, but they are getting longer too. While on leave for a work-related injury, a police officer or firefighter earns 100% of his or her salary — but is exempt from federal or state taxes for a year. So it is actually more lucrative not to work than it is to work.

Meanwhile, the fire department has had to spend more money on overtime to ensure that fire stations are fully staffed, and the LAPD, which cut paid overtime, has had fewer cops on the streets. Taxpayers spent $328 million over the last five years on salary, medical care and related expenses for employees on injury leave. Oh, and the state Legislature has repeatedly expanded the kinds of work-related “injuries” covered by the policy. They include Lyme Disease and HIV and stress.


Certainly, paid injury leave is an important protection for police and firefighters, whose jobs can be extremely physical and dangerous. However, the generous payout, plus the broad range of maladies covered by workers compensation rules and the difficulty of proving fraud, have created a system of perverse incentives that is ripe for abuse.

Los Angeles officials can’t say for sure why the city has so many workers filing injury claims or how many may be illegitimate. That’s a big problem. While 19% of the LAPD’s sworn public safety employees took a leave last year, only 13% did at the county level and only 13% did in San Francisco. If L.A. can’t diagnose the reasons for its higher claims, it cannot effectively address the problem. Should the city invest more in worker safety programs to prevent injury? Or should the city hire more investigators to root out fraudulent claims? Or lobby the Legislature and governor to change state law to reduce the injury-pay perks?

Mayor Eric Garcetti has promised a back-to-basics agenda, and here’s a pretty basic one for him to work on. He and the City Council must investigate why Los Angeles has such high rates of injury claims by police officers and firefighters and then commit to reforms that reduce fraud and abuse of a system designed to protect workers in high-risk professions.

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