Imagine Los Angeles with nearly 1,000 fewer police officers. Many neighborhoods would go unpatrolled, crimes would not be investigated and 9-1-1 response times would increase. It’s a bleak scenario, but if it weren’t for the swift action of Mayor Garcetti to reform the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), that scenario could have become a reality.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League and other like-minded public safety unions worked with Mayor Garcetti, City Council President Wesson and the city administration to ensure the DROP program was cost neutral, held true to its original intent and cracked down on those intent on abusing it.
The DROP plays an integral role in keeping nearly a thousand officers on duty who are eligible to retire. It has become increasingly difficult for the LAPD to recruit enough officers to replace those that retire. Recently, over 500 officers will have been transferred from special assignments back to patrol cars and detective details to keep up with the mounting emergency call volumes and increases in crime. These officers came from specialized gang and narcotic teams, parolee monitoring details and even cold case detectives. The LAPD constantly struggles to hire enough officers to keep up with attrition all while the Summer Olympics and World Cup are on the horizon.
Essentially DROP works like this: an officer who is retirement eligible, retires from the LAPD, but on paper only. He or she then is effectively “rehired” at their same wage. Rather than receive their pension, the officer’s pension payment is held in a DROP account by the City’s pension fund. The officer continues to work for the same wages as other officers, continues to make pension contributions (which they will never receive back) for up to 5 additional years. Upon leaving the LAPD, officers can receive the pension payments that were set aside in the DROP account.
DROP keeps veteran officers on the job longer, while avoiding having to hire a new officer to fill the vacancy. DROP is also available to Los Angeles firefighters, port and airport police.
Unfortunately, DROP was not perfect, and some individuals gamed the system. Participants were exposed claiming to be too injured to work, yet healthy enough to run competitive marathons. Individuals such as these continued to collect their pay while claiming to be injured and had their pension payments deposited into their DROP accounts. As law enforcement professionals, this sickens us. Any individual found to have abused this program should be prosecuted. Period.
That’s why we applaud Mayor Eric Garcetti’s leadership in spearheading the creation of a substantial set of reforms that, if adopted by the city council, will increase transparency and oversight of DROP and put in place strong restrictions that will prevent abuse of the program. Further, these reforms will save the City approximately $12.8 million in the first year implemented.
These reforms include requiring DROP participants to work a minimum number of hours each month to remain eligible to be enrolled in the program. Previously, a DROP enrollee did not have to be at work and could utilize an unlimited amount of sick time, vacation time and injury time and still receive DROP payments into their account. That will no longer be allowed. This reform assures that our experienced police officers are where they should be, at work and that no one profits from not being on the job, protecting our residents.
It could have been politically expedient for Mayor Garcetti to scuttle DROP. To his credit, he sent a firm message to all the affected unions that we needed to work with him on real reform in order to ensure this important police officer retention tool continues to exist.
We need to grow the ranks of the police department, not see them shrink. Further, losing veteran officers has a profound impact on our younger officers who need mentors to build their knowledge and confidence as they grow into an ever-complicated profession. We appreciate Mayor Garcetti’s firm hand in ensuring that those veteran officers stay on the job so they can work to keep our city safe.