NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS-On September 2, the LA City Council declared a fiscal emergency and voted to furlough more than 15,000 civilian employees for 18 days.
The cuts, now delayed until January 2021 pending ongoing labor negotiations, will cause city workers to lose one day of pay per pay-period in order to save the City $21.4 million. (Down from an estimated $104 million in savings under the initial September 2 furlough motion.) As the economic fallout of COVID-19 deepens, corresponding reductions in municipal services are predicted by City Administrative Officer Rich Llewellyn, and the Mayor isn’t ruling out staff layoffs altogether. There are a handful of departments exempted from future furloughs, (sanitation workers, librarians, and firefighters), however, most notably the LAPD.
Having to decide which essential services will be maintained during a recession is never easy and hardly equitable, but it is the total exemption of the LAPD officers from present belt-tightening measures that gives the Budget Advocates pause, given that salaries for sworn police officers will actually increase by $123 million this fiscal year (with more raises planned in 2022) during the worst financial crisis faced by the city since the Great Recession.
The LAPPL and the City Council should immediately engage in conversations to correct this imbalance, as the situation they have created is untenable.
This year, members of the police union will receive a 4.8% raise, plus $41 million in new educational bonuses, as the result of incentives negotiated in 2019 between the City and the Police Protective League. The salary increases are being defended by city officials as necessary in order to keep LAPD compensation at par with other cities, even though California’s police already have the highest average compensation compared with other states. Members of the department routinely earn six figure salaries after accounting for overtime and receive the majority (53.8%) of the unrestricted general fund of the city budget. (Last year’s PD Budget was $2.898 billion compared to total unrestricted revenues of $5.379 billion.)
Even without the onset of a global pandemic, the City was hard pressed to afford the new LAPD incentive structure. A financial status report by the City Administrative Office in October 2019 found that recently negotiated deals with over a half-dozen public sector unions (including the LA Police Protective League and the Los Angeles Police Command Officer Association, among others), committed the City to additional personnel costs that outpaced revenue forecasts by over $100 million. This overspending now contributes to an impending budget shortfall, exacerbated by economic downturn, of at least $400 million.
Even though these raises were negotiated in 2019, implementing them at the present time makes for particularly poor optics given the widespread national conversation about police brutality in America. The LAPD’s violent responses during this summer of protests prompted lawsuits and widespread community discontent with officer conduct. These suits will take years to resolve and will surely add to a ledger of settlements levied against the LAPD and the City that reached $370 million between 2005 and 2018 (put into context, this total amounted to 42% of the City’s settlement payouts during the same time period).
Asking the police department union and the City Council to renegotiate officer raises or to merely defer them until the City’s fiscal situation has improved is reasonable under such extraordinary circumstances, yet the City Council failed to even request this particular consideration in a 9-3 vote early last month.
With so many Angelenos having lost their businesses and jobs, and with the looming threats of foreclosures and further cuts to City staff and City services, increasing police department salaries at this time and exempting them from future furloughs would seem to run contrary to fiscal responsibility and fairness.
(Peter Haderlein is a NoHo Neighborhood Council Board Member and a member of the Budget Advocates, serving Region 4.) Photo: Al Seib / LA Times via Getty Images. Prepped for City Watch by Linda Abrams.