LA cut police budget, then put $ 47 million in overtime on the city’s “credit card”


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LAPD agents at the headquarters of the city center department. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Faced with massive protests against the murder of George Floyd, Los Angeles City Council took dramatic and symbolic action last year, cutting $ 150 million from the Police Department’s budget and promising to put that money into other social services.

Board members achieved a large portion of the savings by reducing the funding available for LAPD overtime. But before that, they got a warning that many agents would end up working overtime anyway, and if there wasn’t enough money to pay them, those hours would end up on the so-called card. city ​​credit.

The predictions turned out to be correct.

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, LAPD officers worked more than 680,000 hours of overtime for which they had not yet been paid, according to figures provided to The Times by the LAPD and the city ​​financial analysts. Those hours, currently valued at $ 47.3 million, represent almost a third of last year’s reduction at the LAPD.

When those officers are paid, potentially years away, the cost will almost certainly be higher, said Dustin DeRollo, spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents the rank and file of the LAPD. This is because deferred overtime must be paid at an agent’s most recent salary, which is usually higher than when he worked the hours, due to pay increases or other factors.

“It will cost taxpayers more because they will pay this overtime at a higher rate later,” DeRollo said.

The LAPD has a long history of requiring officers to work overtime now and be paid much later, a practice sometimes referred to as “overtime banking”. But in the wake of the financial crisis sparked by COVID-19 and an outbreak of city-wide protests against police brutality, the practice has exploded.

During the 2018-2019 fiscal year, the City accumulated $ 13.4 million in overtime. The following fiscal year, which spanned four months of COVID-19 and weeks of protests against Floyd’s murder, the number topped $ 28 million.

Last year’s $ 47.3 million in unpaid hours further increased the bank of overtime hours, bringing the total to $ 154 million. These hours are now a liability that rating agencies take into account when determining the city’s creditworthiness.

And the more the city delays the payment of these overtime hours, the more expensive these hours can become. Officers could be compensated within a few years, after having had two or three increases. Or they might not get paid until they retire, after receiving multiple promotions and receiving their last highest salary.

The growing number of unpaid overtime has troubled some of the activists who demanded that city leaders fund the LAPD.

Last year’s police budget cut was touted by council members as a way to free up money for social service programs in low-income communities. By deferring the payment of tens of millions of overtime hours, the city will actually have less money in the years to come to spend on alternatives to policing.

“I now see it as theater,” said Albert Corado, an activist and council candidate who called for the LAPD’s budget to be cut. “People were asking for police funding, and it was drama.”

“Not to be honest”

Critics have long attacked the city’s overtime practice, claiming it hides the true cost of policing while also charging future taxpayers for services already rendered.

“It’s not being fair with Angelenos,” said Jack Humphreville, who is with the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates, which oversees the city’s spending. “In the budget, they do not take into account these 680,000 hours of work. It is a fraud.

City administrator Matt Szabo, the senior budget analyst who advises Mayor Eric Garcetti and council, acknowledged the strong growth in accumulated overtime was “far from ideal,” saying the practice should be reserved. major financial emergencies. Police officers deserve to be paid for their hours in real time, he said.

“Forced banking is unfair to our agents, financially unstable and should only be used as a temporary measure to overcome a serious crisis,” he said.

When the council slashed the LAPD budget last year, the city faced a huge budget deficit, had depleted much of its reserves and was considering time off for nearly 16,000 employees. This year, after receiving nearly $ 1.3 billion in federal aid, the council allocated significantly more to police overtime, allowing the LAPD to revert to a mostly pay-as-you-go deal, Szabo said.

Szabo said he was not yet sure when the overtime accumulated last year would be paid. The next major opportunity could come in 2023-24, when the police union’s contract calls for up to $ 35 million in overtime payments.

Matt Szabo, Administrative Officer for the City of Los Angeles

City administration officer Matt Szabo said LA’s practice of delaying police overtime payment is “not financially sound” and should only be used in cases of emergency. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The LAPD imposed significant cuts during last year’s financial crisis, reducing the number of overtime hours worked from 2 million in 2019-2020 to around 825,000 hours last year. These figures do not include personnel provided to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which has its own agreement for police services.

“The department has responded responsibly and reduced overtime to minimize the impact as much as possible,” LAPD Police Administrator Thom Brennan said in an emailed statement.

Of the 825,000 overtime hours worked in 2020-2021, more than four out of five hours were put in reserve. Most of those hours were spent on operations – a category that includes routine patrols, minimum personnel, and violent crime task forces – and investigations.

The LAPD relied on the overtime accumulated when officers attended court hearings, underwent medical examinations, or were assigned to protests or social unrest. Officers racked up overtime at major events, such as the street celebrations that erupted when the Dodgers won the World Series and the Lakers won the NBA title.

The COVID-19 outbreak pushed LAPD staff to their limits last year, with thousands of officers contracting the virus, forcing them to take time off work while they recovered or remained in quarantine. Several hundred officers have resigned or retired, leaving the department well below its budgeted strength.

“A very expensive credit card”

This is not the first time the city has relied on deferred overtime payment to weather a financial crisis. After the 2008 recession, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa dramatically increased the amount of overtime officers could accumulate.

At the time, Villaraigosa had a strong focus on protecting the LAPD from cuts. By the time he left office, the LAPD’s overtime bank had grown to 2.6 million hours, with the city owing agents $ 130 million, budget officials said.

As the economy recovered, Garcetti and the board budgeted more money for overtime and paid off some of those unpaid bills, bringing the total down to around $ 108 million.

Los Angeles City Councilors Bob Blumenfield and Paul Koretz.

Los Angeles city councilors Bob Blumenfield, left, and Paul Koretz in 2018. Blumenfield compared LAPD’s deferred overtime payment to using an “expensive credit card.” (Los Angeles Times)

In June 2020, the city’s financial analysts warned that the practice of banking overtime could rise again if board members proceeded with its planned reduction in LAPD, which included a $ 97 million reduction in salaries. overtime. Councilor Bob Blumenfield, who sits on the budget committee, has expressed his own concerns, likening the practice to using a “very expensive credit card”.

“We’re basically paying very high interest because people are going to be paid back at a much higher rate,” he said.

The council used a third of the LAPD’s $ 150 million cut to balance the budget and ultimately spent the rest on employment programs, anti-gang initiatives, universal income programs, homeless services and other priorities.

DeRollo, the police union spokesperson, argued that overtime funds were needed from the start – and that the council cut simply shifted the burden of last year’s personnel costs onto workers. future taxpayers. Late payments also hurt morale at LAPD, with some officers working dozens of hours without being paid, he said.

For some, they might not be able to be paid for those hours for 20 years, ”DeRollo said.

Council chairman Nury Martinez, who led the campaign for the $ 150 million cut, defended the decision to withdraw money from the department, saying the move had helped neighborhoods that had long experienced sub- investment.

“Regardless of any inevitable overtime pay, there is no denying that this council has listened and is focused on creating a more equitable city,” she said.

Times editor Kevin Rector contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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