The City of Los Angeles is calling for a review of LAPD and LAFD protocol and exercise programs after a pair of audits of the city's police and fire departments' workers' comp claims found the costs have jumped 35 percent in five years.
Among the audits' findings:
- The LAPD spent more than $140 million in workers' comp claims over the three-year period studied, with 60 percent of officers filing at least one claim during that period and 42 percent filing two or more
- The LAFD spent over $120 million in workers' comp claims over the three year period studied, with 66 percent of firefighters filing at least one claim and 44 percent filing two or more
- Police and fire claims made up 60 percent of all workers' comp filings the city paid in the past four years
The audit focused on what the city could do to address smaller, preventable injuries, L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin tells KPCC — including those related to sports, food preparation, eating, slips and falls and stair and shower accidents.
"What we sought to do was to look at not just the kind of injuries that are incurred in the course of fighting fires or fighting crime," Galperin said, "but lots of other types of injuries — for example, looking at the number of injuries that result [from] exercise activities."
The audits found that sports injuries sustained while playing basketball, handball or paddle tennis added up to an astonishing 13 percent of Fire Department claims over three years, costing the city around $1.3 million. For the LAPD, the number was a bit lower at 3.5 percent, or $600,000 each year.
"I'm not a sports expert, but I can tell you that it's costing the city quite a lot of money," Galperin said. "We want our sworn officers to be in good shape, obviously, but you have to look at what kinds of activities they're engaged in to stay in good shape, and which ones are likely to result in certain kinds of injuries."
The controller's office also found both the fire and police departments' protocols for filing claims has resulted in a "culture of claims" that leaves managers and supervisors off the hook and incentivizes a lackadaisical attitude toward new claims.
The report suggests LAPD and LAFD supervisors would be less likely to rubber-stamp questionable claims if the money came out of their own budgets.
"There needs to be a greater sense of accountability on the part of the departments for the workers' comp expenses that are incurred from their employees," Galperin told KPCC. "That doesn't necessarily mean that everything should be paid out of their budget, per se, but it does mean that we have to find a mechanism for much greater accountability. Right now it all comes out of the general fund."
In all, the controller's office estimated the city could save about $28 million a year in preventable injury costs.
Galperin told KPCC that state law makes it possible that fire and police officers could earn more income receiving workers' comp than being at work. Though not a focus of the audits released Thursday, he said that could also be contributing to ballooning workers' comp costs.
"There are issues in terms of how state law is structured that are troublesome," he said, "and that, quite frankly, can create potentially a perverse incentive to not come back as quickly to work as we'd like people to."
The controller's report calls for putting in place "best practices" for activities that go beyond use-of-force and traffic training, regularly monitoring those who have been injured for updates on their progress healing, putting in place a health and wellness program, considering physical fitness requirements outside of those already existent for SWAT and police academy requirements and regularly collecting and reporting data on workers' comp claims stats to the mayor's office.
"We believe that there are some real opportunities to reduce the city's liabilities and to also make sure that fewer people are being injured," Galperin said.