Tentative LA police contract spurs debate

Proposed LA police union contract raises starting salaries.
Proposed LA police union contract raises starting salaries.
Photo by Antonio R. Villaraigosa via Flickr Creative Commons

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Supporters of a tentative one-year contract between the city of Los Angeles and its police union say the deal will keep more cops on the street and improve recruitment.

“This has huge benefits not only for the city and the residents but also the officers,” said Councilman Mitch Englander, who chairs the public safety committee and sits on the city’s executive employee relations committee. The panel oversees negotiations with unions.

Englander says one big benefit of the contract is how it handles overtime for the LAPD’s nearly 10,000 officers.

When tax revenues plummeted during the Great Recession, Los Angeles starting compensating police officers for their overtime work with vacation days instead of cash. If officers racked up too much overtime, they were ordered to stay home.

The proposed contract includes $70 million for overtime, according to sources familiar with the deal. That means its more likely cops can stay on the beat, said Englander.

“It’s going to keep officers on the street,” he said. 

The deal has no cost of living increase, but raises starting salaries by 15 percent – to about $57,000 a year – after the city lowered entry level pay during the recession. The estimated 900 officers hired in the last four years at a lower starting salary would see a raise.

“That will help retain those officers,” Englander argued.

Councilman Bernard Parks, a former LAPD chief, said there was a good reason for lowering starting salaries for rookie cops in the first place.

“It was viewed at the time as long-term savings,” Parks said. He has not seen details of the contract but said he is concerned it may be too generous because the city continues to grapple with deficits.

“It’s too early to be giving raises,” he said. “We’re talking about giving a union more money on their base salary before we can adequately fix streets and sidewalks.”

Councilman Joe Buscaino, a former LAPD sergeant who remains a reserve officer, said the higher starting salaries help with recruitment. Oakland, for example, pays about $60,000 to new officers, he said.

“Some of the cadets I mentored when I was at the LAPD are seeking other agencies like Oakland and San Francisco because of the higher entry-level pay,” he said.

In a statement, Mayor Eric Garcetti praised the deal he helped negotiate. "I'm very pleased we have reached a fiscally responsible tentative agreement.”

City Council President Herb Wesson said the agreement “should be a major boost to recruitment, retention and morale.” 

The police union president declined to comment on it.

“I will be happy to talk to you after I explain all of the details to my membership,” said Tyler Izen, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League.

Izen expressed frustration city officials had talked about the deal before it is ratified. "The details being reported are misleading and incomplete," he told his members in a videotaped message. Izen did not elaborate on what he thought was misleading.

Englander said tentative agreement was for one year rather than the traditional three because the two sides need more time to work on "other issues." He declined to name them. The relative shortness of the contract means the union and city negotiators will be back at the bargaining table in six months.

Rank and file cops must approve the deal, as does the City Council. The council is in recess and returns at the end of July.