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Report: LAPD using officers for clerical duties

March 31, 2009 | 10:02 am

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 assignments that are meant to be filled by civilian employees.

In all, an internal LAPD audit found 178 police officers, detectives and supervising sergeants working in jobs that do not require a police officer’s training and should be filled by lower-paid civilians, Rhonda Sims Lewis, head of the LAPD’s Administration and Technical Services Bureau, told the Los Angeles Police Commission this morning. (Note: An earlier version of this post said LAPD official Sharon Papa presented the report to the police commission.)

More than 115 of those officers are able-bodied cops who are 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 department’s civilian ranks. The tasks, such as crime statistics analysis and grant writing, while mundane, are important to keep the department functioning, Lewis 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 an undersized police force that is far smaller 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. Seventeen percent of all civilian jobs in the department — about 640 positions — are vacant.

The department has had some success in getting exemptions from the city to fill specialized civilian positions that require unique 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 pulled four officers off patrol assignments for tasks such 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 these positions has been spurred by the department’s ongoing push to add 1,000 officers to its undersized ranks. As hundreds of these new recruits have hit the streets in recent months, they also increase the amount of paperwork that needs to be completed at stations and thus increase demand for clerical support, Sims Lewis said.

The audit also found that 1,130 other cops, in a department of about 9,900 officers, are in so-called light-duty assignments because of injuries or other disabilities. These positions, such as working the front desk or in the equipment room at stations, are designated for sworn police 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.

-- Joel Rubin