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Investigations sit idle as LAPD detectives hit overtime caps

With its overtime budget decimated, the department is forcing officers to put cases on hold and take days or even weeks off. Despite an uptick in killings, the homicide unit is among the hardest hit.

April 12, 2010|By Joel Rubin

Supervisors said they are also seeing the policy take a toll on morale among their detectives. "It's really disheartening," said Kouri, who solved more than a dozen cases last year. "It goes against the mentality of homicide detectives. All we want to do is work our cases. That's what we feel we owe to the families of victims -- to work straight through."

Several detectives said they don't always drop their cases during down days, making phone calls and filling out paperwork on their own time.

The detectives are taking a financial hit as well, since roughly a third of their pay has traditionally come from overtime wages.

Many, like Kouri, who were over the cap from the start were forced to take extended leaves to lower their totals. Going forward, Beck put field commanders on notice that they were responsible for keeping their officers below the limit. At weekly meetings once reserved for reviewing crime-fighting strategies, the commanders are grilled on what they are doing to keep work hours in check.

Homicide squads are not the only units feeling the brunt of the overtime rule. Large numbers of officers in other specialized assignments, such as the SWAT, canine and bomb units, are also at or above the limit. And, in several stations situated in high-crime areas, the number of regular patrol and anti-gang officers above 200 hours of overtime has reached double digits.

The policy has had a significant effect on the number of officers available to work. Last year, officers decided to take about 17,000 hours off each month in compensation for overtime, department figures show.

In March, that number soared to nearly 60,000 hours. The increase in lost work hours was the equivalent to removing about 290 officers from the department roster.

"In homicide, we create our own luck by staying out there and beating bushes until we find what we need," said Det. Chris Barling, who oversees the LAPD's South Bureau homicide unit. "Are we going to miss something because my guys are being forced to take two days off in the middle of an investigation? Could this cause us to not solve a case? Sure."

joel.rubin@latimes.com

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