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8 LAPD patrol officers' pay tops $200,000 a year

They more than double their salaries with extra shifts and `scheduled overtime.' Chief defends the expense because of a shortage of officers.

March 31, 2007|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Having a police force that is too small has its rewards, at least for the bank accounts of officers patrolling Los Angeles' streets.

Just ask the Los Angeles Police Department sergeant who made $240,000 last year -- $131,000 of that from working overtime.

Or another sergeant, who added $105,800 in overtime pay to his $101,900 annual salary.

In all, eight LAPD officers, one ranking as high as lieutenant, each earned more than $200,000 last year, thanks largely to budget-busting overtime, a city controller's report has found.

With considerably fewer than the number of officers needed to patrol the city, the LAPD has for years used overtime accounts to keep a presence in neighborhoods.

And that situation is not likely to improve any time soon. In fact, the department said this week that it expects to exceed its $62-million overtime budget for the current fiscal year, ending June 30, by $12 million.

Some observers have voiced concerns about the amount of overtime, saying it raises questions about supervision, the city's failure to maintain proper staffing levels and whether officers working such long hours can do the job satisfactorily.

But Police Chief William J. Bratton said an acute shortage of officers makes the heavy use of overtime necessary. Officials expect the problem will ease as a hiring campaign boosts the 9,500-member police force to more than 10,000 over the next three years.

In the meantime, LAPD managers say it makes sense to have officers work extra shifts to cover policing needs.

"As we expand the department, a lot of the new officers for the first year or two are going to be in the academy," said Bratton, who will ask for an $11-million increase in the department's overtime budget for fiscal 2007-08.

"After next year, once we get over that hiring crunch, then we will have those additional officers out in the field without the overtime."

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa plans to expand the police force by 1,000 over five years, and has won City Council permission to impose trash collection fees to pay for the hiring.

Officers are more available than ever to work overtime shifts since the city went to a compressed work schedule that allows them to work 12 hours a day, three days a week, and the department has further restricted officers' abilities to take second jobs.

Bob Baker, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said fatigue is not an issue. He said it is better to have a new officer brought in to work an overtime shift than to have an officer who finishes a 12-hour day kept on to work even more hours.

"Scheduled overtime -- when officers arrange to work during their off-duty periods -- is the best way to get enough officers for each shift," Baker said.

City records indicate that one of the sergeants who received a big check worked 75 hours a week throughout the year instead of the usual 40 hours.

LAPD officials said some of the officers with the biggest overtime checks are assigned to security details at Los Angeles International Airport, and their overtime is partially reimbursed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The overtime report, by City Controller Laura Chick, is a document prepared periodically to help city managers identify and manage potential issues with overtime. It was obtained by The Times through a Public Records Act request.

Chick was out of the city Friday and not available for comment, but her predecessor, Rick Tuttle, said the latest report raises concerns about a very small number of employees earning so much overtime.

"My recommendation is that senior management should take a good, hard look at this, at least at the cluster of workers," Tuttle said.

Downplaying the overspending of the overtime budget, LAPD officials said the City Council every year underfunds the overtime budget with the expectation that the department will come back late in the year to justify requests for additional funding.

Still, that hasn't kept seven police officers, none of them in management positions, from making more last year than the mayor's $200,500 salary, with another earning only a few hundred dollars less.

The report also shows that several low-level officers made more than deputy chiefs, who are not eligible for overtime.

The high use of overtime to help ease staffing shortages is not unique to the LAPD.

There were 18 city firefighters who made more last year in overtime than in regular pay, including one firefighter whose regular pay was $93,800, but who also took home $205,700 in overtime, as well as other compensation, for a paycheck of more than $300,000.

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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