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L.A. City Council signs off on police raises amid warnings of financial risk

LOS ANGELES, CA-JUNE 2, 2023: LAPD Chief of Police Michel Moore, left, and LAPD Captain Christopher Zine, to his immediate right, conduct a uniform inspection during the graduation ceremony for the Los Angeles Police Academy Class 12-2022 at the Los Angeles Police Academy in Los Angeles. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
LAPD Chief Michel Moore, left, and Capt. Christopher Zine conduct inspection at a Police Academy graduation ceremony in June. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday approved a four-year package of raises and bonuses for rank-and-file police officers over the objections of critics who said the deal is too expensive and will put the city's money toward the wrong things.

The council, on a 12-3 vote, signed off on the agreement with the Los Angeles Police Protective League, giving the union's members four year-to-year pay increases, bigger retention bonuses and other incentives aimed at encouraging officers to join the LAPD and stay throughout their career.

The council's decision is expected to push police spending in L.A. up to $3.6 billion by 2027 from the $3.2 billion budgeted in the current year. The vote also handed a major victory to Mayor Karen Bass, who sits on the city's bargaining committee and had argued for the contract.

During Tuesday’s deliberations, Councilmember Bob Blumenfield voiced his support for the agreement, saying additional officers will make the LAPD less reliant on overtime pay. It will also ensure that officers do not depart for other law enforcement agencies soon after finishing the Police Academy, he said.

"It is a lot of money. And I certainly take a gulp as I say that," said Blumenfield, who represents part of the west San Fernando Valley. "But we have to have a competitive police force, in terms of being able to recruit and retain folks."

Read more: Union contract would increase LAPD budget by nearly $400 million by 2027, report says

The agreement's collection of raises, benefits and other enticements are expected to consume nearly $1 billion over the life of the four-year agreement — a fact seized upon by opponents within City Hall.

Three members of the council — Eunisses Hernandez, Nithya Raman and Hugo Soto-Martínez, all of whom occupy the council's left flank — voted against the deal, arguing that it would pull money away from mental health clinicians, homeless outreach workers and many other city needs. They warned of the financial consequences for other agencies, particularly if the city is confronted with a major economic downturn.

"The next time we hit a recession, a spending crisis or a budget shortfall, we will all look back at this vote," said Soto-Martinez, whose district stretches from Echo Park to Hollywood.

Raman, whose district straddles the Hollywood Hills, said she is sympathetic to the city's goals of addressing LAPD hiring and recruitment. But she argued that the packages of raises and bonuses would do little to address those issues.

Southern California police departments with higher starting salaries — Burbank, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and other agencies — are having the same recruitment problems as the LAPD, Raman said.Staffing shortages are also being reported by law enforcement agencies across the country, she said.

Hernandez and Raman reeled off a list of services that they said are in need of more money — streetlights, sidewalk repairs, building inspections, alley resurfacing and other city operations.

"This contract, because of its enormous fiscal impact, potentially prevents us from being able to build out an alternative response to nonviolent calls for service, which are the majority of 911 calls," Raman said.

City Administrative Officer Matt Szabo at one point in the day's discussions told council members the contract would make it easier for the city to expand its system of unarmed responses to emergency calls, by ensuring that such changes do not require the union's sign-off.

The deal with the police union is part of Bass' effort to reverse the steady decline in staffing at the LAPD, which has lost about 1,000 officers over the last four years. Bass pushed earlier this year for the hiring of up to 780 officers in the current budget year, plus the recruitment of about 200 retirees.

The contract, which is retroactive to July 1, will boost the starting pay of officers by nearly 13%, while providing four raises of 3% over a four-year period. Those increases would place LAPD starting salaries above $86,000 in the contract's first year — higher than those in Pasadena, Long Beach and Burbank, but lower than those in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, according to city figures.

By the contract's fourth year, LAPD starting salaries will reach about $94,000, Szabo said. On top of that, newer officers will receive retention bonuses for the first time. Older officers — those with more than a decade of experience — will earn retention bonuses that are much larger than the ones in effect now.

During the contract's final year, officers who have worked 20 to 26 years will receive an annual retention bonus of $20,754, while those with 27 or more years will earn a bonus of $22,208, Szabo said.

"This contract represents ... a very substantial financial commitment to recruiting officers and retaining officers," he said. "As with any major financial commitment, it will create choices in the future."

Bass thanked council members for their action, saying she looks forward to working with them on public safety. Meanwhile, LAPD Assistant Chief Dominic Choi said he believes the focus on higher compensation is already helping his agency with hiring.

The newest Police Academy class will have 44 recruits, up from fewer than 30 earlier this summer, and some officers who have left the department are having second thoughts, Choi said at a hearing on the contract earlier in the day.

"Five people in the past two weeks have called and said, 'How do I get back onto LAPD?'" he told the council's personnel committee.

Councilmember Traci Park, who represents coastal neighborhoods, enthusiastically endorsed the contract, saying her Westside constituents have been demanding an increased police presence. The agreement, she said, will provide fair compensation to workers who "risk their lives every single day."

"When I was sworn in nine months ago, I made a promise to my community and to our police officers that the days of scapegoating and bashing police in Council District 11 were over," Park said. "I meant what I said then, and I'm standing by it today."

Park, along with several other supporters of the contract, frequently was greeted with boos or profanity from audience members who opposed the deal. Among that group was Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, who argued that the police raises are "the opposite of what the people say that they want."

"It's astounding that the mayor and others will allow themselves to be bullied and bribed by a police association, which is not a real union," Abdullah said earlier in the day at a news conference featuring Raman, Hernandez and Soto-Martinez.

Tom Saggau, spokesperson for the Police Protective League, took the opposing stance, saying the council had acted to make the city safer by taking a "bold and necessary step to restore the ranks of the LAPD."

"We are grateful to Mayor Bass for her leadership and we are eager to partner with her and the council on creating a national model for unarmed responses to certain calls for service," he said, "and retaining experienced officers to implement these initiatives."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.