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LAPD facing staffing shortage unless union agrees to overtime rules, Beck says [Updated]

June 9, 2011 | 11:40 am

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck this week went public about ongoing contract negotiations with the union that represents rank-and-file officers, threatening that the Los Angeles Police Department would likely be forced to send home thousands of officers unless the union agrees to extend a deal on overtime benefits.

With the city facing its worst financial crisis in decades, the LAPD has not been paying officers overtime wages, except in rare situations, throughout the current fiscal year. In lieu of cash, police and union officials negotiated a deal in which officers are forced to take time off when they accrue 400 hours of overtime work. To make sure no officer reaches that trigger point, the department's new policy requires officers to stop working temporarily when they bank about 250 hours of extra work.  Under the previous overtime rules, officers received cash once they accrued 96 hours of overtime. 

The overtime agreement, however, expires on June 30. If the Los Angeles Police Protective League and city cannot reach an agreement on a new contract or the union refuses to grant an extension on the overtime policy while negotiations continue, the LAPD’s overtime rules would revert back to the 96-hour cap.

That, Beck warned in a statement released late Wednesday night, would seriously undermine the department’s ability to adequately staff police stations throughout the city. In order to ensure that no officer reaches 96 hours of overtime, police officials said they are planning to send officers home when they bank about 30 hours. Department averages indicate that more than 1,000 of the LAPD’s nearly 10,000 officers would reach that level in eight weeks or less, while the average officer would hit the limit in about four months, said Cmd. Rick Jacobs, Beck’s chief of staff.

“As of today, no agreement has been reached with the LAPPL,” Beck wrote in the statement. “As a result, I am obligated to make plans for changes that I do not necessarily want to make. At this point, it is only my intention to prepare you for what lies ahead.”

To fill some of the inevitable staffing holes, Beck said he is planning to reassign officers from the department’s specialized units to regular patrol duties. He did not specify which of the LAPD’s many specialized units, which include vice, gang and narcotics, would be targeted. The reassignment plan being drawn up by police officials calls for about 200 officers to be sent back to patrol -– a number that officials acknowledged is insufficient to cover all the staffing gaps that would be created as overtime totals mount.

“That’s a drop in the bucket compared to what we’ll need,” Jacobs said.

The staffing shifts are certain to deal a blow to officer moral, as officers working in coveted, specialized assignments will land back in regular patrol cars responding to radio calls. The plan also raises questions about the training and preparedness of the officers being reassigned. At least some of them are expected to be detectives and other non-uniformed officers who have not worked as a regular patrol officers for years.

“It is not my desire to reassign officers out of their current assignments, but it is the only way the Department can maintain the level of front-line resources that are essential for the protection of the public’s safety,” Beck wrote.

Another clause in the labor contract requires the department to give officers advanced notice before being reassigned. As such, Beck said he cannot wait until the end of the month to see if a deal is reached, but must notify the officers being reassigned by mid-June. The staffing changes would take effect July 18, but could be rescinded if a deal is reached.

The showdown over the overtime issue is unfolding against the backdrop of the ongoing contract negotiations. City officials are trying to extract concessions from the league that would close about half of the $40-million hole in its upcoming budget. Union officials, who did not immediately respond to Beck’s statement, are using the overtime issue as leverage in the broader negotiations, according to several union and police officials, who asked that their names not be used because of the sensitivity of the contract talks.

[Updated at 3:28 p.m.: League President Paul M. Weber released a statement Thursday afternoon saying that  “with just 20 days to go before the new city budget takes effect, the LAPD is threatening to take measures to plug the gap that put the public at risk and show a total disregard for long-established collective bargaining principles.

"We are not going to sit by and allow our membership to be scapegoats for the failure of City leaders to adequately fund public safety in the budget process. The League has consistently shown its willingness to bargain in good faith," Weber said in his statement. "By passing the buck from the City Council to the Mayor to the Chief of Police, City leaders have shown a lack of commitment to public safety and needlessly created this situation.”]


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Photo: Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck. Credit: Los Angeles Times