Crime statistics for 2015 showed a sharp increase in violent crimes in Los Angeles — and the rest of the country — over previous years.
One much-discussed rationale for the crime spike is the so-called Ferguson effect. This is the theory that law enforcement has withdrawn from protecting communities as a result of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014 and the nationwide public outrage that followed. Some argue that officers have become reluctant to engage in proactive policing and are arresting fewer suspects because they fear intense media scrutiny and public condemnation.
That is not what's going on in Los Angeles. In 2015, LAPD officers made 8% more arrests for violent crime than the year before and arrested 28% more people on auto theft charges. In addition, weapons-related arrests went up by 5%.
If our patrol officers and detectives were not aggressively investigating crimes and stopping suspects, arrest rates would be flat or lower. Instead, we see only lower arrest rates for certain crimes modified by Proposition 47 and other legislation. In short, LAPD officers are in no way avoiding their duty to protect the public.
Nevertheless, there is a Ferguson effect being felt in Los Angeles. It's just not the effect that is being discussed.
The events in Ferguson highlighted how many communities in America do not believe that the police are using their authority fairly and legitimately. This perception — and in some unfortunate cases, reality — has created a barrier to cooperation between cops and residents to combating crime. That is the real Ferguson effect.
There are any number of theories on what causes crime rates to swell, but nearly everyone agrees that public trust is essential to successful law enforcement. Police alone cannot reduce crime. Community partnerships, joint problem solving and open communication with the public are critical. When those links are weak, police are less effective, particularly at preventing crime.
The legitimacy of the whole criminal justice system, in fact, starts with the public's perception of policing. Every day, officers have to take actions that are often misunderstood or unpopular, most especially the use of physical, even deadly, force. Every community — including people of color and residents of poor neighborhoods — needs to have faith that officers will apply force in the right way, at the right time and for the right reasons. It isn't sufficient to simply say that police officers used force appropriately, to protect their own lives or the lives of others, after the fact. Without legitimacy, law enforcement will always struggle.
The Los Angeles Police Department has confronted and overcome many such challenges in recent decades. But we know there is still much work to do, especially in communities that have been underserved and suffered the most from violent crimes.
This is why the LAPD is taking a dual approach to responding to the city's increase in crime. We have doubled the size of the Metropolitan Division, a squad of highly trained officers who concentrate on the most dangerous criminals and violent crime. This unit has the geographic flexibility to focus on areas where crime is rising, bringing extra help to make neighborhoods safer.
At the same time, we are investing in efforts to build strong bonds and promote mutual understanding between the police and the public. In August, for instance, we formed the new Community Relationship Division to better consolidate, coordinate and improve our public outreach efforts, which are so essential for building strong partnerships with the public.
We also have developed a nationally recognized Community Safety Partnership Program. In less-privileged communities, police officers organize activities, provide mentoring and play in sports leagues with local young people. This program has proved its value in six public housing projects that historically suffered from high crime rates. In 2015, these communities saw violent crime drop 17% and property crime drop 27% compared with the year prior.
Investigating crimes and making arrests, the core functions of any police agency, are dramatically hampered if we don't have the trust and confidence of the communities we serve. Addressing that part of the Ferguson effect is crucial if we are to reduce crime and make our communities safer together.
Charlie Beck is the chief of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Consent Decree OverviewCivil Rights Consent DecreeFollowing the discovery and disclosure of the Rampart Area Corruption Incident by the Los Angeles Police Department, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) notified the City of Los Angeles that it intended to file a civil suit alleging that the Department was engaging in a pattern or practice of excessive force, false arrests and unreasonable searches and seizures. The Director of the Office of Constitutional Policing and Policy is Arif Alikhan.Whenever the DOJ has reasonable cause to believe such violations have occurred, they may obtain a court order to eliminate the pattern or practice. On that basis, the DOJ has entered into consent decrees with other law enforcement agencies throughout the United States including the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Police Department; Steubenville, Ohio Police Department; and the New Jersey State Police.A consent decree is an agreement between involved parties submitted in writing to a court. Once approved by the judge, it becomes legally binding.In making these allegations, the DOJ recognized that the overwhelming majority of Los Angeles police officers perform their difficult jobs in a lawful manner. The City denied the allegations in the DOJ complaint and entered into negotiations with DOJ. However, to avoid potentially divisive and costly litigation and to promote the best available practices and procedures for the Department, the City entered into the Civil Rights Consent Decree.The Consent Decree will last a minimum of five years during which the Department must demonstrate substantial compliance with the Decree’s provisions.The Consent Decree is intended to promote police integrity within the Department and prevent conduct that deprives individuals of their rights, privileges, or immunities protected by the Constitution of the United States. The Consent Decree places emphasis on the following nine major areas:Management and supervisory measures to promote Civil Rights Integrity;Critical incident procedures, documentation, investigation and review;Management of Gang Units;Management of Confidential Informants;Program development for response to persons with mental illness;Training;Integrity Audits;Operations of the Police Commission and Inspector General; and,Community outreach and public information.On November 2, 2000, the City Council and the Mayor approved the Consent Decree negotiated between the City and the DOJ. However, the Consent Decree was not immediately entered (i.e. approved and signed) by Federal District Court Judge Gary A Feess. Nonetheless, the Department formed the Consent Decree Task Force (CDTF) within Administrative Group to plan for, coordinate, track, monitor and report on the Department’s compliance with the Decree’s provisions.The Court formally entered the Consent Decree into law on June 15, 2001. In the upcoming month, Department employees can expect to receive Consent Decree-related orders, notices, and training, articulating new operational policies and procedures.Wilshire and Hollywood Area patrol officers recently began a pilot program to evaluate the use of hand-held computers for motor vehicle and pedestrian stops. Data collection is scheduled to begin Department-wide by November 1, 2001.The men and women of the Los Angeles Police Department are deeply committed to serving all the people and all the various communities of the City.Compliance with the Consent Decree is the baseline for, and not the ultimate standard, by which the Department’s commitment to excellence will ultimately be measured.The communities of Los Angeles expect and deserve the finest service possible from their police officers. To that end, the Department shall consider the Consent Decree as only a part of a more comprehensive effort to provide the highest level of protection and service.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, center, shown at a news conference this year, disagreed with the officer's actions and faulted him for not turning on his body camera until after the shooting and not carrying a Taser, violations of department rules. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
A veteran Los Angeles police officer violated department rules for using deadly force last year when he shot and killed a 70-year-old man holding a pipe in downtown L.A., an oversight panel determined.
Siding with Chief Charlie Beck, the Los Angeles Police Commission unanimously faulted Officer Charles Garcia for firing his gun and for some of the tactics he used before pulling the trigger.
Several bystanders filmed the March 4 shooting, which happened at a busy intersection — Olympic Boulevard and Broadway — in the middle of the afternoon. Those videos, which show Garcia fire twice at Alejandro Mendez as he stood several feet away, quickly raised questions both inside and outside the LAPD.
In his report to the commission, Beck said the decision by Garcia and his partner to "immediately deploy" on Mendez limited the time they had to "assess the situation or consider other tactical options."
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They could have pulled out a bean-bag shotgun instead, Beck wrote, giving them more room to react to someone who didn't have a gun.
Read LAPD Chief Charlie Beck's report on the fatal police shooting of Alejandro Mendez »
Beck ultimately placed the responsibility on Garcia, noting his partner was a reserve officer working his first full day in the field. Garcia, who has been with the LAPD for more than 20 years, should have come up with a better plan for resolving the situation "with the least amount of force necessary," the chief wrote.
Garcia's name was redacted from a public copy of Beck's report, though the department previously identified him as the only officer who fired his gun during the deadly encounter. The name of the reserve officer, who was cleared of any wrongdoing, has not been released.
Larry Hanna, an attorney representing Garcia, said he believed the officers acted appropriately to safeguard bystanders in the area. They first used a Taser to try to subdue Mendez, he said. Mendez, he added, had swung a long metal pipe at others, and the officers believed he continued to pose a threat.
"There was no way they could stand by and let this person just swing at civilians," Hanna said. "One hit to the head and the civilian goes down, then the chief or other people would be saying, 'Why didn't they take action? Why didn't they do something?'"
Fewer shootings by police — that's the goal of new rules adopted by the L.A. Police Commission
APR 18, 2017 | 8:00 PMThe situation unfolded shortly before 12:30 p.m., when the Central Division officers responded to a report of a gray-haired man swinging a pipe outside a Carl's Jr. at Olympic and Main Street. They ultimately found their suspect, later identified as Mendez, about a block away.
At least one officer told investigators he saw Mendez swinging a "long stick or pipe" toward people as they approached him, according to Beck's report. Video from the officers' patrol car showed Mendez "jabbing" the pole as he stepped toward a security officer, who then stepped backward and moved a bike to keep Mendez away, the report said.
LAPD officers expected to face more scrutiny over shootings with new rules
APR 17, 2017 | 3:00 AMOne officer told investigators that he feared someone could be hit by the pipe, so they "couldn't wait for a backup and had to move," Beck's report said.
The officers began issuing commands that Mendez ignored, the report said. At least one officer moved closer, telling him to "stop and drop the stick."
The reserve officer then fired a Taser, the report said, but it had no effect on Mendez.
Mendez, still holding the pipe, moved closer, Garcia later told investigators, according to Beck's report.
"He came at me, and I fired," Garcia told them. "He was coming at me, my partner. I was thinking about the other people that were all there, if he — it would take, literally, a couple seconds for him to advance and just start swinging."
Paramedics took Mendez to a hospital, where he died less than an hour later.
Did the LA County Sheriff’s Department, ICE detain inmates for too long? A federal court thinks so
uary 9, 2018 at 7:37 pm | UPDATED: February 9, 2018 at 7:38 pmImmigrant rights’ advocates are celebrating a federal court ruling that found, in part, that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department violated the Constitution when it held jail inmates longer than their release dates for immigration purposes.
Thursday’s decision by the Central District of California means that the Sheriff’s Department unlawfully held thousands of suspected immigrant inmates on the basis of these “immigration detainers” between 2010-2014 – some for days after their release date – without probable cause of a crime, according to civil rights groups and attorneys involved in the case.
The court’s ruling, which stemmed from lawsuits filed against the Sheriff’s Department and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also found it’s unconstitutional or illegal for ICE to issue such immigration holds for certain inmates. Advocates say this also affects thousands of people.
“It’s hugely significant,” said Jennie Pasquarella, director of immigrants’ rights for the American Civil Liberties Union of California and a senior staff attorney for ACLU of Southern California. “It’s the first class-action seeking damages that has addressed the detainer issues … nationwide that I know of.”
Pasquerella noted that many law enforcement agencies had stopped holding inmates past their release date for federal immigration authorities due to these legal concerns, which is why the debate over sanctuary cities and states has exploded.
“The Trump administration has been trying all manner of ways to coerce police to comply with them, but this reaffirms that there is no legal authority for them to comply – nor is there necessarily authority for ICE to be issuing them in the first place,” she said.
Every person who was held on an immigration detainer by the Sheriff’s Department during those five years should benefit from the ruling, Pasquarella said. The ACLU estimates that number to be between 10,000 and 12,000 people.
“The next stage is to determine damages,” Pasquarella explained. “They may be eligible for compensation.”
Because holding inmates longer than their release dates constitutes a new arrest under the Fourth Amendment, Sheriff’s Department officials could only arrest these individuals if deputies had “probable cause” to suspect they were involved in criminal activity, the court stated in its ruling.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.
“The LASD officers have no authority to arrest individuals for civil immigration offenses, and thus, detaining individuals beyond their date for release violated the individuals’ Fourth Amendment Rights,” the ruling stated.
The Supreme Court has said that local officers generally lack authority to arrest people suspected of civil immigration violations, the ruling added.
The Sheriff’s Department, in a written statement, said that it could not get into specifics concerning the lawsuit. But it noted that the lawsuit, which was filed in 2012, involved past practices.
“Currently, the Sheriff’s Department does not detain any inmate beyond their normal release date regardless of whether or not there is a valid ICE detainer,” the department said. “This has been the standard practice since 2014.”
It was unclear if the department would appeal the decision.
The Central District of California’s ruling also found Thursday that it’s unconstitutional for ICE to issue immigration detainers for inmates based on evidence of a person’s foreign birthplace without records in an immigration database. The court also found it illegal for ICE to issue detainers without an administrative warrant signed by an ICE officer.
Those decisions apply to all detainers issued from ICE offices in California, said Jessica Bansal, litigation director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. She noted the federal agency has an office in Laguna Niguel that issues detainers around the country.
Now that the ruling has been made, the court could issue an injunction lifting these immigration holds, Bansal said.
ICE implemented a policy last year whereby warrants are now issued with detainers, she added. However, they were not generally issued before April, 2017.
ICE does not comment on pending litigation as a matter of policy, spokeswoman Lori K. Haley said. But she noted that lack of comment should not be construed as agreement with any of the allegations.
“In (Department of Homeland Security’s) homeland security mission, our trained law enforcement professionals adhere to the Department’s mission, uphold our laws while continuing to provide our nation with safety and security,” she said in an email.
Several issues still need to be resolved during the trial of this case, including whether ICE’s databases are accurate and complete enough for the agency to issue immigration holds for any inmate, according to the plaintiffs.
The two lawsuits, which have been combined, were filed by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the law firm of Kaye, McLane, Bednarski & Litt, the National Immigrant Justice Center and the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.
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Brenda GazzarBrenda Gazzar is a multilingual multimedia reporter who has worked for a variety of news outlets in California and in the Middle East since 2000. She has covered a range of issues, including breaking news, immigration, law and order, race, religion and gender issues, politics, human interest stories and education. Besides the Los Angeles Daily News and its sister papers, her work has been published by Reuters, the Denver Post, Ms. Magazine, the Jerusalem Post, USA Today, the Christian Science Monitor, the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, The Cairo Times and others. Brenda speaks Spanish, Hebrew and intermediate Arabic and is the recipient of national, state and regional awards, including a National Headliners Award and one from the Associated Press News Executives' Council. She holds a dual master's degree in Communications/Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas at Austin.
Follow Brenda Gazzar @bgazzar
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Chaos erupts at emergency community meeting called to quell tensions after teen is killed by deputies
An emergency town hall meeting called in the aftermath of the fatal shooting by deputies of a 16-year-old boy ended in chaos Wednesday night as the teen's family and residents demanded answers from Los Angeles County sheriff's officials.
Deputies shot and killed Anthony Weber during a foot chase Sunday evening. They said they spotted a handgun tucked into his pants, but investigators never recovered a weapon.
The year-old Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission — a nine-person board appointed by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to monitor the Sheriff's Department — called the crisis meeting to quell tensions between the community and the law enforcement agency.
John Weber, the teen's father, brought an enlarged cellphone photograph of his son lying on the ground.
"Where's the gun?" he asked. "I know where the bullets are, they're right in my baby's back."
Sheriff's officials were silent.
At least 150 people showed up to the forum, held at New Congregational Missionary Baptist Church in South L.A.
"You killed a 16-year-old!" another man screamed.
The boy's brother, also named John Weber, also addressed sheriff's officials. "Was my brother murdered? Yes or no?" he asked.
"Yes!" others in the crowd screamed.
At one point, the younger Weber asked a sheriff's captain if his brother's family or community was "due something."
"Absolutely not," Capt. Christopher Bergner replied.
An angry group then convened around the panel, prompting authorities to end the meeting early. Bergner's response didn't sit well with those on the oversight panel.
"We are just as insulted by that response as the community," said Commissioner Xavier Thompson.
Patti Giggans, another commissioner, said the meeting ended early because Weber's family and the community were disrespected.
"The way families are treated after a shooting is not OK," she said.
In a statement Thursday morning, the Sheriff's Department said that Bergner couldn't hear the question being asked because of the noise in the room. He heard, "Don't you think we are doomed?" the department said.
"That is the only reason why he replied 'Absolutely not,'" according to the statement.
The shooting occurred about 8 p.m. Sunday in the Westmont neighborhood of South L.A.
Two deputies responded to a report of a young man in blue jeans and a black shirt pointing a handgun at a motorist in the 1200 block of 107th Street. The caller, according to audio of the dispatch call, said he feared for his life.
While on foot, deputies encountered a 16-year-old boy who matched the description. They spotted a handgun tucked into his pants, according to statements by the Sheriff's Department.
When they ordered him not to move, the teen ignored the deputies' commands and took off running into an apartment complex known as a gang hangout, Bergner has said previously.
After entering a courtyard, the young man turned toward the deputies and one of them fired about 10 shots. The teenager was struck "several times" in the upper body, the department said in a statement.
Authorities said a gun carried by the boy may have been taken by someone in the crowd that converged on the scene.
After the shooting, neighbors flooded the courtyard and the two deputies called for additional help to control the crowd as it swelled to 30 or 40 people. Deputies believe the gun went missing during the commotion, Bergner has said.
At Wednesday's meeting, Sheriff's Chief Joe Gooden said the deputies involved were not wearing body cameras, but noted that the department is working on a body-camera program.
"It's not as simple as giving every deputy a camera," he said.
For more crime news, follow @nicolesantacruz on Twitter.
Times staff writers Alene Tchekmedyian, Angel Jennings and Javier Panzar contributed to this report.
Feb. 8, 11:50 a.m.: This article has been updated with audio from the town hall meeting.
Feb. 8, 9:25 a.m.: This article has been updated with a response from the Sheriff's Department.
This article was originally published at 10:25 p.m. on Feb. 7.
Battling treacherous office chairs and aching backs, aging cops and firefighters miss years of work and collect twice the pay
hen Capt. Tia Morris turned 50, after about three decades in the Los Angeles Police Department, she became eligible to retire with nearly 90% of her salary.
But like many cops and firefighters in her position, the decision to keep working was a financial no-brainer, thanks to a program that allowed her to nearly double her pay by keeping her salary while also collecting her pension.
A month after Morris entered the program, her husband, a detective, joined too. Their combined income for four years in the Deferred Retirement Option Plan was just shy of $2 million, city payroll records show.
But the city didn’t benefit much from the Morrises’ experience: They both filed claims for carpal tunnel syndrome and other cumulative ailments about halfway through the program. She spent nearly two years on disability and sick leave; he missed more than two years, according to a Times analysis of city payroll data.
The couple spent at least some of their paid time off recovering at their condo in Cabo San Lucas and starting a family theater production company with their daughter, according to Tia Morris’ Facebook posts and her self-published autobiography. They declined to comment for this story.
The Morrises are far from alone. In fact, they’re among hundreds of Los Angeles police and firefighters who have turned the DROP program — which has doled out more than $1.6 billion in extra pension payments since its inception in 2002 — into an extended leave at nearly twice the pay, a Times investigation has found.
Former Police Capt. Daryl Russell, who collected $1.5 million over five years in the program, missed nearly three of those years because of pain from a bad knee, carpal tunnel and multiple injuries he claimed he suffered after falling out of an office chair.
“It was defective,” Russell said of the chair during a recent interview. “I believe the screws underneath came out.”
Former firefighter Thomas Futterer, an avid runner who lives in Long Beach, hurt a knee “misstepping off the fire truck,” three weeks after entering DROP, according to city records. The injury kept him off the job for almost a full year.
Less than two months after the knee injury, a Tom Futterer from Long Beach crossed the finish line of a half-marathon in Portland, Ore., in a brisk 2:05:23, according to race results posted online. Only one Tom Futterer lives in Long Beach, according to public records.
Futterer did not respond to repeated requests for comment. His attorneys, Roger Cognata and Robert Sherwin, refused to confirm whether Futterer had run the half-marathon in Oregon.
Big money, questionable resultsCity officials say they have never studied the amount of disability and sick time taken by DROP participants, but a Times review of thousands of pages of workers’ compensation files and tens of millions of computerized payroll and pension records from July 2008 to July 2017 found:
But it wasn’t envisioned as a program to retain experienced employees, said Jeffrey Yates, the city’s retirement administrator. In fact, the goal was the opposite: to discourage older employees from staying so long that they limited upward mobility for younger workers. And it had a two-year time limit.
Since then, versions of the program have been adopted by dozens of states, counties and cities across the country. The details vary — some have short terms to encourage early retirement, others have long terms to retain experience — but the central appeal for employees is constant: two large checks instead of one.
Allowing employees to take long stretches of paid time off while in DROP runs counter to Los Angeles city leaders’ stated rationale for the program, which was to keep experienced and savvy veterans in firehouses and police precincts serving the public and mentoring new recruits.
Firefighter Tom Futterer finishes a half-marathon in Los Angeles in 2010. Marathon-photos.com‘That was a mistake’The Los Angeles police union proposed the program to former Mayor Richard Riordan in 2000 when senior officers were retiring early or leaving for other jobs in the wake of the Rampart scandal, which exposed widespread corruption within the department.
Voters approved a 2001 ballot measure that promised “no additional cost to the city” to create the program. Since then, roughly 5,000 of the city’s public safety officers have joined DROP, which allows them to collect their salary and pension simultaneously for up to five years at the end of their careers.
In 2016, officers exiting the program had been paid an average of $434,000 in extra pension payments, according to a Times analysis of Los Angeles Police and Fire Pension fund data.
Asked about the program last year, Riordan said: “Oh, yeah, that was a mistake.”
Riordan said he supported DROP to appease the police union during a tumultuous period in city politics, but that it had been dogged by rumors of abuse from the beginning.
Told that nearly half of all DROP participants who entered the program had subsequently gone out on disability leaves, Riordan, now 87, said he remembered hearing the number was even higher. “Either way, it’s total fraud.”
The Times reviewed thousands of pages of workers’ compensation records for police and firefighters who took disability leaves while in DROP. None of the injuries described in those files was the immediate result of intense action, such as running into a burning building or confronting a combative suspect.
Instead, the injuries claimed by program participants, who must be 50 years old with 25 years of experience, were for ailments that afflict aging bodies regardless of profession: cumulative trauma to knees and backs, high blood pressure, cancer and carpal tunnel syndrome — all of which, under state law, are presumed to be job-related for police and firefighters.
City officials acknowledged that taking long leaves at the end of careers to treat nagging injuries is an ingrained part of the culture.
“Historically, police and firefighters have always waited until they’re close to retirement to go out and fix all their aches and pains,” said Maritta Aspen, who is in charge of employee relations for the city administrative officer.
Asked whether it makes sense to pay them double while they take time off to do that, Aspen said, “Obviously, that wasn’t the intent. It was to have them working for a longer period of time, to extend their careers.”
Former LAPD Sgt. Gregory Renner was paid almost $1.2 million for his five years in DROP. He missed nearly three of those years on disability and sick leave, payroll records show.
Before Renner entered the program in 2011, he had filed at least 15 workers’ compensation claims for injuries including sore knees, wrists and shoulders, high blood pressure, ulcers, a tumor on his bladder, a hernia and a sharp pain he felt in his left shoulder while lifting books overhead.
Renner said his most painful injury occurred during the 1992 riots when a looter threw a video cassette recorder at him, damaging his elbow. He left the field for a desk job in the mid-90s.
Renner’s injuries have cost the city more than $2 million, city records show.
City officials concede that, aside from making sure an employee meets the age and experience requirements, there is no screening of applicants before accepting them into DROP. And once in the program, there is no mechanism to suspend the extra pension payments no matter how long an employee is unable to work.
“When you come in to sign up for DROP, you have to be on active duty, but then the following day you could trip on a ladder, or whatever it might be, and you could be out until the day you exit,” said Raymond Ciranna, general manager of Los Angeles Fire and Police Pensions, which administers the program.
Assistant Police Chief Jorge Villegas, who joined the Deferred Retirement Option Plan in 2015 and could walk away with nearly $900,000 in extra pension pay. Mel Melcon / Los Angeles TimesDifficult to change the rulesSenior Los Angeles Fire Department officials — many of whom are in DROP and stand to collect high six-figure payments from the program — declined to comment for this story.
Assistant Police Chief Jorge Villegas, who joined DROP in 2015 and could walk away with nearly $900,000 in extra pension pay at the end, said any change to the rules would require careful deliberation.
“I think that’s something that has to be negotiated with the various unions,” Villegas said. Asked whether the department should be able to prevent employees with poor attendance because of a long history of injury claims from entering the program, Villegas said, “I think we cannot be discriminatory.”
Villegas has not taken any time off for injuries since joining DROP, city records show.
When most Los Angeles taxpayers reach the standard retirement age, 65, they face a stark choice: keep working and collecting their paychecks or quit and start collecting Social Security, which replaces only a small fraction of annual wages for most people.
When city firefighters or police officers reach their retirement age, 50, the choices are far better. They can keep working for a paycheck, they can retire with up to 90% of their salary in pension and city-subsidized health insurance for life, or they can enter DROP. For many, the choice is easy.
If they choose DROP, they keep working and collecting their paychecks for up to five years while their pension checks are deposited into a special account. They don’t get any more pension credit for the time they spend in DROP — pensions typically increase with every extra year worked — but the city guarantees 5% interest on the money in the account. The city also adds annual cost-of-living raises to the pension checks to make sure they keep pace with inflation.
When the employee quits working and exits the DROP program, the paychecks stop, the pension continues and the money in the account is transferred to the employee.
Of the 2,583 cops and firefighters who entered the program between July 1, 2008, and July 1, 2017, 860 have collected more than $1 million in combined salary and pension payments during their tenure in DROP, The Times found. Thirty-one have collected more than $2 million.
Because pension payments that begin early are usually a bit smaller, union leaders argue the cost to the employer is offset over time. But in recent years, a growing number of jurisdictions have abandoned or drastically scaled back DROP programs because the math doesn’t work.
Former Police Capt. Daryl Russell collected $1.5 million over five years in the DROP program. Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles TimesOther cities dropping DROPInstead of saving money, or remaining “cost-neutral,” the programs lead to ballooning pension costs and accusations that employees are simply double-dipping.
In Alabama, a statewide DROP was discontinued in 2011 after reports that some of the top beneficiaries were high-level administrators, lobbyists and football coaches.
San Diego closed its DROP to new employees in 2005 after officials decided it was ineffective and too costly.
Despite the backlash against the cost of the programs, there has been little public scrutiny of employees taking long stretches of paid injury time while also collecting dual checks.
The Times contacted officials and reviewed policies in roughly a dozen jurisdictions with DROP programs around the country and found none that examined the frequency of long injury leaves.
San Francisco was the only jurisdiction The Times found that implemented a simple rule to prevent them: Any officers who received temporary disability payments would have their pension payments suspended until they became fit for duty again. When they returned to work, the payments would be reinstated.
Micki Callahan, director of San Francisco's Department of Human Resources, said the provision was introduced to prevent abuse. “Isn't it wasteful to spend this money for people who aren't even at work?"
Even with that provision, officials in San Francisco found the DROP program too expensive and discontinued it within three years.
One incentive for cops and firefighters to file a workers’ comp claim, rather than use their health insurance, is that their salaries are exempt from federal and state income tax while they’re out on disability leave for a job-related injury.
That means they take home substantially more of their salary while they’re home recovering than they would if they went to work. If they wait until they’re in DROP to take off a few months — or a year, or two — they receive pension checks on top of the tax-free salary.
The downside of the workers’ comp system, according to interviews with DROP participants, is the difficulty getting the city to approve ongoing medical treatment for cumulative injuries, especially if an employee claims several of them.
Claims adjusters working for the city are particularly slow to approve significant surgeries, such as knee replacements, employees said. They try to save money by encouraging employees to try weight loss, physical therapy and cortisone injections first, even if the employee’s personal doctor has recommended surgery.
The delays cost the city money, employees argue, because they end up on disability leave longer.
Tia Morris' retirement announcement in The Thin Blue Line shows her in running gear with her husband and daughter in director's chairs, a nod to the new family business. Los Angeles Police Protective League‘That last year was about me’All that time away from the job has another negative impact, according to employees who have been through it: lower self-esteem.
“I hated it,” Renner said of the nearly three years he spent off duty waiting for, and recovering from, treatment for his bad back, sore knees and an injured thumb while he was in DROP. “You feel like a worthless piece of trash.”
Between salary and pension, the city paid Renner more than $650,000 for time off while he was in the DROP program, The Times analysis found.
Russell, the former police captain, said he would have loved to return for light duty during his nearly three years off, but his superiors never called to offer him that chance.
LAPD officials disputed that account, saying they have a policy of contacting employees who are out sick or injured every seven days, and that Russell was contacted at least 84 times.
Villegas said Russell should not have needed any special accommodation because “the captain’s job is a desk job. Certainly you can come back to answer phones and respond to emails if you want to.”
While it’s unlikely the department would bother pursuing charges years after the fact, Russell’s suggestion that he would’ve returned if contacted “may be evidence of criminal fraud,” Villegas said, because it implies Russell was actually able to work. “He’s suggesting that he’s healed if we would have called him,” Villegas said.
Russell’s time off began when he tore his right biceps reaching for a cooler in his garage before a Super Bowl party in 2012. That wasn’t a work-related injury, but while recovering from surgery the pain spread.
“I suddenly start having trouble with my wrists … just out of the blue,” Russell said. He was found to have carpal tunnel syndrome and had additional surgery.
After a long stretch recovering from that, he returned to the office only to have the chair collapse beneath him. He wound up on the floor with a reinjured wrist and a newly injured back, Russell said.
For each workplace injury, police and firefighters are allowed up to 364 days of injury leave.
As he recovered from his fall from the chair, Russell sought treatment for cumulative trauma to his knee. The city was slow to approve surgery to fix the problem, Russell said, so he never returned to work.
“That last year was about me,” Russell said. “It was about taking care of myself.”
The city paid him more than $830,000 for his time off during DROP, according to The Times’ analysis.
In her self-published autobiography, “Mama’s Curse”, former LAPD Capt. Tia Morris describes her 2006 diagnosis of breast cancer — the disease that killed her mother — and the months of successful treatment that followed. She also writes about her sense of betrayal five years later when she was passed over for promotion in the Van Nuys division — a little more than a year after she entered DROP.
Percy Morris' retirement announcement in The Thin Blue Line, an LAPD union magazine, highlights his affection for the Mexican resort town where he and his wife bought a timeshare and spent time recovering from the injuries that kept them from work while in DROP. Los Angeles Police Protective League“I felt defeated and irrelevant, so I was done for once and for all with the LAPD,” she wrote.
Instead of simply retiring with her pension and city-paid health insurance, however, Morris remained in DROP and started taking long disability leaves for injuries she said she had accumulated during decades on the force — collecting her salary and pension all the while.
She filed workers’ comp claims for carpal tunnel in both hands, pain in her neck, a sore elbow, a sore shoulder, a sore knee and a Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection she claimed she’d contracted from filthy conditions at the department’s Southwest Division.
Of her carpal tunnel treatment in February 2012, she wrote, “I wasn’t happy about having surgery but I was happy to be away from work.”
With the exception of a few workdays in June 2012, she remained on injury leave until September 2013, when she retired, city records show. The city paid her nearly $470,000 for the time off in DROP, The Times’ analysis found.
Her husband, Percy Morris, filed claims for carpal tunnel, MRSA and a back injury while in DROP. He was paid about $476,000 for the more than two years he took off during the program, The Times found.
The injuries prevented the couple from doing their desk jobs at the LAPD — hers was administrative, he spent at least half his time typing reports — but they were far from idle.
Percy and Tia Morris on the beach in Cabo San Lucas. Photo posted to Tia's Facebook page on July 23, 2012, while, according to city records, they both were in DROP and Percy was on injury leave. Tia Morris / FacebookPostcard from Cabo San LucasPhotos posted to Tia Morris’ Facebook profile while they were both in DROP and Percy Morris was on injury leave show the couple embracing on the beach in Cabo San Lucas, where they bought a timeshare. In her autobiography, Tia writes about starting the theater production company shortly after entering DROP.
They staged plays and produced films written and directed by their daughter, pitching in with everything from renting theaters and furnishing sets to baking cookies to sell to audiences. It was all “perfect for our transition from law enforcement to a much happier place,” Tia wrote.
It was important, however, to make sure the hours she spent working for the family business did not overlap with hours she otherwise would have been scheduled to work at the LAPD.
“I did not want any work comp fraud issues,” she wrote, “so I was letter of the law.”
Since the program’s inception, not a single DROP participant has been charged with workers’ compensation fraud, court records show.
Jack Dolan is an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times. A winner of several national investigative reporting awards, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for a series revealing the doctors with the worst disciplinary histories in the country, using records the federal government sought to keep secret. He began his newspaper career at the Hartford Courant in Connecticut, where he grew up, and worked at the Miami Herald before coming to The Times.
Gus Garcia-Roberts joined the Los Angeles Times as an investigative reporter in May 2017. Previously a reporter at Newsday in Long Island, N.Y., he was a part of the investigative team whose
Ryan Menezes joined the Los Angeles Times in 2013. He primarily conducts analyses for reporting projects as a hand with the Data Desk while writing about a multitude of topics. Occasionally, he will post scripts written in R or Python to GitHub. Ryan studied statistics at UCLA, where he also wrote editorials and covered various sports for the student newspaper in between games of pick-up basketball.
Los Angeles Police Commission
email Commissioner Steve Soboroff
was appointed to the Board of Police Commissioners by Mayor Eric
Garcetti in August of 2013. At that time, he was elected President
of the Los Angeles Police Commission by his fellow Police
Commissioners. After serving the maximum of two consecutive years
as President, he was elected Vice President in 2015.
Commissioner Soboroff has long been known as a business leader and
public servant who brings people together to get positive results.
He is past Chairman and CEO of Playa Vista, and current Chairman of
the Board of Directors of The Weingart Foundation. He is a senior
fellow at the UCLA School of Public Policy, a member of the Board
of Councilors to the USC School of Public Policy, and the Chairman
of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at LMU. He is a member
of the Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment Commission.
Commissioner Soboroff was the Senior Advisor to the California
Science Center in its project with NASA to bring to, and
permanently exhibit the Space Shuttle Endeavour in, Los Angeles. He
is Chairman of the Maccabiah Games "Committee of 18" and is the
world's foremost collector of typewriters that were previously
owned by famous individuals.
Commissioner Soboroff is the Chairperson of the Leavey Center for
the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. He is also
a Senior Fellow and member of the Advisory Board at UCLA's Luskin
School of Public Affairs and is a member of the Board of Councilors
at the USC Price School of Public Policy. He served as Senior
Advisor to Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, and was Chair of the
$2.4 billion LAUSD Bond Citizens' Oversight Committee that made
safety and other improvements to over 700 schools.
Commissioner Soboroff was the driving force behind bringing Staples
Center to Los Angeles and helped spearhead the Alameda Corridor
Project, and he finished within 3% in the 2001 mayoral primary
election in Los Angeles.
Commissioner Soboroff served as President of the Los Angeles
Recreation and Parks Commission has a strong track record for
creating, improving and protecting open space and park land for
city residents. He served as president of the L.A. Recreation and
Parks Commission from 1995 to 2001, reinvigorating the city's park
system to better meet the recreational needs of the people of Los
Angeles. Mayor Villaraigosa dedicated the SOBOROFF SPORTS FIELD
complex adjacent to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Exposition
Park, and the STEVE SOBOROFF COURT PARK opened in 2011 in Playa
Active in Big Brothers since 1968, Commissioner Soboroff currently
sits as a member of the Board of Governors of Big Brothers/Big
Sisters of Greater Los Angeles. He has lectured and/or taught at
UCLA, USC, Stanford, UC Berkeley, University of Arizona and Loyola
Marymount University and volunteers his time to mentor several
university students annually.
Commissioner Soboroff resides in Pacific Palisades with his wife
Patti and they have five children.