By a vote of 12-3, the Los Angeles City Council yesterday approved a new LAPD salary package for police officers represented by the Los Angeles Police Protective League. The package will provide increases in both starting and base pay, and significant retention bonuses to the city’s police officers, in an attempt to increase hiring, stem a recent tide of attrition, and address current staff shortages. Interestingly, our two most local Councilmembers, CD 5’s Katy Yaroslavsky and CD 13’s Hugo Soto-Martinez ultimately came down on opposite sides of the question, with Yaroslavsky voting in favor of the wage increases, and Soto-Martinez voting in opposition.
What the Contract Includes
In a presentation to the Council before its vote, City Administrator Matt Szabo, whose office negotiated the contract proposal, told Councilmembers that there are several factors contributing LAPD’s current staff shortages.
First, said Szabo, starting salaries for LAPD officers are just over $74,000 per year, which is the lowest among the eight closest LA-area law enforcement agencies.
Second, Szabo said, attrition (including both retirements and officers moving to other cities or leaving the field entirely), represented by the blue bars in the chart below, has significantly out-paced LAPD hiring (orange bars) for the last four years.
Meanwhile, at the same time, Szabo said, efforts to hire new officers (red bars below) have also not kept up with hiring goals (blue bars), resulting in a police force that has fewer than 9,000 sworn officers for the current fiscal year, which is far fewer than needed to fully staff the department.
So Szabo said there were three goals in the new contract negotiations. They were:
- Improve recruiting and hiring of new officers
- Do more to retain both new and experienced officers
- Incentivize several critical public safety functions
To achieve the first of these, Szabo said, the city and the police union agreed to raise wages 3% per year, or 12% over the life of the new four-year contract.
This would also make LAPD’s salaries more competitive, Szabo said, brining them to third place among local law enforcement agencies, after only Santa Monica and Beverly Hills.
Next, said Szabo, to help better retain both new and experienced police officers, the new contract offers retention pay starting at two years of service, at the rate of 3% in year one of the contract, and increasing to 8% in year four. And there would be additional incentives for officers who remain on the force for more than 27 years (as a discouragement to early retirements).
And finally, said Szabo, the new contract would also help incentivize certain critical public safety functions by increasing geographic patrol bonuses (and converting them to a flat rate), providing stand-by pay for critical personnel such as homicide and sexual assault investigators, and adding bonus pay for members of the Community Safety Partnership Bureau.
Finally, Szabo also noted than an important element of the new contract is that while work currently performed by unionized police officers may not be contracted out to non-union employees, a major exception is unarmed response functions, which will be a big help as the city and LAPD move toward converting more kinds of emergency responses to unarmed personnel, many of who may be contract employees.
After outlining the contract’s major provisions, however, Szabo also acknowledged that the raises will be quite costly for the city, adding $384 million in ongoing costs to the city’s base budget over the next four years.
According to Szabo, however, the cost “represents a commitment to LAPD in a very strong way,” and is essential to recruiting, hiring, and retaining enough qualified officers to preserve the public safety and to remain a competitive employer.
Public comments on the contract at the meeting were largely negative and often unruly (with several people eventually removed for disrupting the proceedings). At the same time, however, several small business owners and community representatives (including former City Council District 5 candidate Susan Collins) spoke strongly in favor of the salary increases, saying their communities are less safe these days and very much need the larger and more active police presence the contract will support.
After public comments, discussion among the Councilmembers themselves was relatively brief, with only eight of the 15 councilmembers choosing to speak (CD 5’s Yaroslavsky was not among them). Of those who offered comments, the five who spoke in favor of the contract did so fairly quickly, noting the indisputable importance of increased public safety, and the need to fairly compensate officers for the work they do. Several also mentioned that they, too, firmly support current efforts to increase the use of unarmed emergency responders wherever possible…and CD 3 representative Bob Blumenfield noted that increasing the number of police officers will also help save money on expensive overtime pay, which has been another recent burden for LAPD.
The three councilmembers who eventually voted to oppose the new contract each offered slightly longer remarks, and at least somewhat similar reasons for choosing to vote no on the contract specifics.
First, CD 4’s Nithya Raman noted that public safety is hugely important to the people in her district, who definitely do feel unsafe when their calls to either 911 or the LAPD non-emergency line all too often go unanswered. “This is a problem,” she said. “We need LA to be a city where when you call for help, someone shows up and it’s the right person to respond to the issue that you’re facing in that emergency,” she said.
So Raman said she is definitely sympathetic to the goals of the new LAPD contract, and the need for increased public safety. At the same time, however, she said she’s also very concerned about the overall cost of the contract, and the possibility that it won’t fully address the problems it seeks to solve.
For example, said Raman, while many other local cities offer higher police salaries than Los Angeles, they, too, have big shortages of police officers right now, which indicates there are other factors besides salary driving the vacancies. Also, Raman noted that Szabo’s report showed that officers who leave LAPD are not mostly going to other law enforcement agencies (see chart below), which also indicates that pay alone is not the reason most choose to leave.
So Raman said the real issue with officer retention is likely much bigger than just wages – in other words, she said, it’s “a macro issue – not related to Los Angeles.”
Finally, Raman noted that the last time Los Angeles made such a huge increase to its police budget, it tipped the city into a budget deficit, which she said we can’t afford right now, especially since other city departments are also currently suffering similar staff and budget shortages. In fact, she said, the cost of this particular contract could hamper the city’s efforts to shore up the many other departments that also provide valuable services to residents (such as sidewalk repair, tree trimming, etc.) “I fear that this contract,” Raman said, “with its enormous fiscal responsibilities, leaves us less able to do that.”
Next, CD 1’s Eunisses Hernandez asked Szabo if the contract’s costs could indeed be at the expense of the needs of other city departments, and he acknowledged that it would indeed “be part of the competition for scarce resources” in the overall city budget.
Hernandez said she believes “equitable budgeting” is more important than just increasing LAPD spending, and the budget effects of the proposed LAPD increase would be “enormous” when too many other departments are “fighting for scraps.” She also noted that every other proposal that comes before the city council is met with the question of “How are we going to pay for that?” and said it seems “irresponsible” not to meet this proposal, for a department that already has a $1 billion budget, with the same question.
Finally, CD 13’s Hugo Soto-Martinez agreed with both Raman and Hernandez, saying that everyone shares a vision of city services that work, and this contract is just too expensive to support that vision. Soto-Martinez also said that if the city set its priorities differently – such as putting LAPD levels of funding toward mental health services or systems that address the root causes of crime – the city would look very different, and we wouldn’t need to use the police as “de facto social workers.”
Like Raman and Hernandez, Soto-Martinez agreed that we need to adequately protect residents from those who are violent, but he, too, said he fears the big increases in the LAPD budget will come at the expense of other departments. “I don’t want to sink our ability to fund [other] programs,” he said.
In the end, before calling for the final vote, Council President Paul Krekorian thanked all of the speakers for their comments, saying, “I think this has been an example of the kind of debate we should be having here in the Council chambers, and I applaud all of you who spoke and the points that you made.”