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Civilian hiring freeze leaves scores of LAPD cops doing desk work

April 01, 2009|Joel Rubin

Hamstrung by a citywide hiring freeze and widespread job vacancies, Los Angeles Police Department officials have resorted to using scores of police officers to perform clerical duties and other desk-bound work meant to be done by civilian employees.

In all, an internal LAPD audit found 178 officers, detectives and supervising sergeants in jobs that do not require a police officer's training and should be filled by lower-paid civilians, Assistant Chief Sharon Papa told the Los Angeles Police Commission on Tuesday.

More than 115 of those officers are able-bodied and fit to serve but have been pulled off the streets either full time or part time to fill jobs left vacant because of severe shortages among the civilian ranks. The tasks, such as crime statistical analysis and grant writing, while mundane, are important to keep the department functioning, Papa and other officials said. The remaining officers are temporarily or permanently sidelined because of injuries or other disabilities.

Although the total is not as large as LAPD officials had previously anticipated, it is roughly equivalent to removing one or two patrol cars from each of the department's 21 stations -- a significant handicap for a police force that is far smaller per capita than those in other major American cities.

The audit underscores how widespread the civilian shortage has become in the LAPD, which, like other city agencies, is chafing under the civilian hiring freeze Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa approved late last year in the face of an estimated $500-million budget shortfall.

Currently, 17% of all civilian jobs in the department -- about 640 positions -- are vacant. The department has had some success getting exemptions from the city to fill civilian positions that require special skills, such as 911 dispatchers, DNA analysts and guards for the city jail. The department is still trying to get approval to fill at least some of the 42 vacancies in its garages, where a shortage of mechanics, electricians and the like has caused backlogs in repairing cars.

Capt. Bob Green, who runs the department's 77th Street area station in South L.A., said he had taken four officers off patrol assignments to perform such duties as crunching statistics for crime analysis and writing reports.

"Any time I pull a police officer out of the field it makes an impact," he said. "I'd prefer they be out on the streets doing police work, but some of these positions have to be filled."

Ironically, the need to use officers to fill those positions has been spurred by the department's ongoing push to add 1,000 officers to its undersized ranks. As hundreds of the new recruits have hit the streets in recent months, they have increased the amount of paperwork that needs to be completed at stations and so have increased the demand for clerical support, said Rhonda Sims Lewis, head of the LAPD's Administration and Technical Services Bureau.

The audit also found 1,130 other cops in a department of about 9,900 officers who are in so-called light-duty assignments because of injuries or other disabilities. These positions, such as working at the front desk or in the equipment room at stations, are designated for sworn officers, but about half of the officers are permanently disabled and will never be fit to serve in a regular police capacity, Sims Lewis said.

In 2006, the department changed its policies to prevent officers from remaining in such positions indefinitely. Now, if an injured officer is unable to be rehabilitated within a designated period, he or she is given the option of training to become a civilian employee in the department or retiring with disability benefits.

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joel.rubin@latimes.com

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