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It's Not Enough to Get Paid for Not Working: These L.A. Police and Firefighters Figured Out How to Double It

Meet the LAPD couple who made a cool $2 million off the city while hanging out at their condo in Cabo San Lucas.

LAPD GraduatesMediaonela / Dreamstime.comTake a program that lets a public employee earn both a pension and a salary at the same time. Add an extremely generous disability leave and workers' compensation program that allows public employees to be paid while not working for months or even years on end. What do you get? Massive corruption, obviously.

A new report from the Los Angeles Times attempts to quantify the costs and consequences of a program allowing L.A. police and firefighters to collect both salaries and pension returns in the years running up to retirement. But these same employees often spend massive chunks of their final years on the payroll out on medical leave—so they're costing the city even more money without actually working.

The program is called the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), and it allows public safety employees who have reached the age of 50 to bring home a salary while also earning pension returns during that time. The pension funds (with a guaranteed five percent return rate) are then given to the officer or firefighter as a single payment upon retirement within five years. When you hear stories about police chiefs or fire captains taking home a massive lump sum of money when they retire, this is typically why.

The Times calculated that employees who participated in DROP took more than twice as much sick leave and disability time off than other employees in 2016: 296 hours compared to 123 hours. Over the course of nine years, the city has paid more than $220 million for police and fire personnel who had taken a combined 2.4 million hours off for leaves and sick time.

None of the injuries claimed by cops and firefighters in this program happened as the result of intense field activity. According to the Times, they tended to be the medical consequences of growing old: bad backs, high blood pressure, cancer, and a lot of carpal tunnel syndrome. Thanks to state law (and the influence of public employee unions on lawmaking), these ailments are all presumed to be job-related. Apparently one of the most terrifying, dangerous beats for Los Angeles Police Department officers is its own offices. One guy's injuries stemmed from him falling off a chair.

The corruption that follows is fairly predictable. The Times includes several stories of public safety employees who spend months or years of their final period on the job out on medical leaves. But they're hardly bedridden or fighting their way through physical therapy. One couple, a captain and a detective in the LAPD, spent around two years each on medical disability, spending some of their time at their condo in Cabo San Lucas starting a family theater production company. A firefighter who injured his knee just weeks after entering the DROP program shares the same name and hometown as a man who ran a half-marathon two months later, but he and his lawyers would not confirm or deny to the Times whether they were the same person.

Unsurprisingly, this easily abusable program was sold by claiming it would accomplish the opposite of what it actually does. City leaders said the program would keep older police and firefighters on the job to serve and mentor new recruits. And they promoted it to voters by saying it would create no additional costs for the city. This is obviously an absurd claim—the city paid out more than $400,000 in extra pension payments in average in 2016 per DROP employee, and the fire department has to pay overtime to fill the shifts of those who take medical leave.

It's not a new thing for cities to not consider—or to deliberately ignore—the long-term unintended costs and consequences of pension-related commitments. It's the very reason why cities (and now even states) face bankruptcy over them. The costs of pension-related commitments are often concealed from residents. The Times notes that Los Angeles city officials haven't even bothered to analyze the amount of medical leave taken by DROP participants.

Public warnings about problems with the DROP program aren't even new. Check out this piece from 2011 that warns that the program wasn't even being audited.

Former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan, who was in charge when the program was introduced, has acknowledged that DROP was "a mistake" and a "total fraud." But it persists in Los Angeles as other cities and states across the country have dropped it. Even San Francisco dumped the program because it was too costly, and this was after they implemented rules to try to cut back on abuse.

Los Angeles has a big problem with underfunding its pensions to the tune of billions and expecting much higher returns than is reasonable. This DROP program helps make a bad problem even worse.

Bonus link: Steven Greenhut goes over the ways public sector unions in California push for costly benefit packages that leave taxpayers overcommitted.

Photo Credit: Mediaonela / Dreamstime.com

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  • Vernon Depner||

    Outlaw public employee unions.

  • Mitsima||

    Sound like too much work, dustavalti. I think I'll just join the LAPD or LAFD.

  • CE||

    You don't have to outlaw the unions, just prohibit them from making campaign contributions.
    Or prohibit net tax recipients from voting for any government office or ballot measure that may impact government spending.

  • Enemy of the State||

    You make it illegal for them to collectivelg bargain & strike...

  • EscherEnigma||

    So you rescind their Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Association. Nice.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    To keep them from stealing and infringing on our rights. Military personnel lose various freedoms and have no union either. The fatass civilian fed emplouees can make this sacrifice, considering how they feast on what the rest of us produce.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Oh! I know this one!

    "Fuck off, slaver."

    Seriously, saying that people don't have the right to talk to each other about work issues, don't have the right to strike, don't have the right to mutually agree to certain things... that's pretty bad. So sure, argue that employers (even government employers) should be able to fire striking employees and can't be required to work with unions. But Freedom isn't just for people you approve of.

  • MJBinAL||

    The employment restrictions for public employees SHOULD eliminate strikes, and even union membership. Public employment is exempt from free market forces.

    We expect that excessive union benefits that a company pays, impacts the success of the company, and ultimately punishes those excesses with loss of sales and reduction of employment, perhaps even leading to business failure.

    Public employees have no restraints via the free market. If they feel that the restrictions on union activity, collective bargaining, and strikes are too undesirable, they should obtain employment in the private sector where they are subject the free market forces.

  • Curly4||

    If the city, county or state could withhold union dues would help quite a bit. Where these political entities no longer withhold union dues the unions are not as ready to get nor keep members. The collusion between politician and union to steel taxpayer money to further the politician and the union members goal. For the politician to get reelected and for the union member higher wages and higher retirement and collect retirement while still working for the city, state or state government.

  • Flinch||

    California government is too far down the rabbit hole for them to start that conversation, much less pass legislation that you KNOW the 9th circus will find a way to shoot down should superior court fail. That leaves... congress. I don't see the progs embedded inside the GOP inside the beltway allowing that to get traction either, but we might be able to get debate started. Perhaps the primary focus should be dissolving the 9th as it's easier than the impeachment route - being consistenly wrong on balance is not an impeachable offense, although playing an inside/outside game while avoiding recusal is.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    It's not enough that Reason has to attack the FBI, now they're attacking our first responders? We need to return to a time when our institutions were above reproach, and any who dared reproach were severely reproached.

  • Rhywun||

    You're reproached!

  • Mitsima||

    We don't need immigrants turning our country into a 3rd world nation!

    We can do a damn fine job of it on our own.

  • Rhywun||

    I love it. Some city has to be a model for the rest of us of what happens at the end stages of the Democrat-pubsec worker vicious circle, and it might as well be LA.

  • ||

    Some city has to be a model for the rest of us of what happens at the end stages of the Democrat-pubsec worker vicious circle, and it might as well be LA.

    So Detroit, Baltimore, and Chicago don't count? Democrat-pubsec union socialism can have only the one failure mode?

  • Necron 99||

    I thought it was Detroit, or was that just unions in general?

  • timbo||

    Detroit is almost entirely a victim of the public and private sector unions run amuck. The generous political stuff comes when the gravy train starts to suffer.

    The unions scared the shit out of the auto makers and the steel unions.

    I imagine a lot of Chicago and Baltimore problems had something to do with capital flight out of the city along with broken political admins/union abuse.

  • Flinch||

    LA has been chasing the Greek model for decades. That's what happens when most of a town is on drugs. I recall being there as a teenager and... it was easier to find dope than get somebody to buy a six pack of beer for me. That experience made me ask: just how stupid was Nixon, anyway? Prohibition not only fails every time its tried, but it increases the total criminality of any society. So much for the clowns pimping "law and order".

  • Elias Fakaname||

    All the Marxist bullshit doesn't help either.

  • creech||

    Probably not unusual. 3 of the 4 cops in our township who retired recently did so because of "injuries" from the job.
    One was disabled because someone stopped for a ticket happened to slam his car door on the cop's thumb. That became a disability because, even though it was not his gun hand, the rules required him to be able to shoot with either hand. Nor could he take a desk job for the rest of his career because those cops, too, have to be able to shoot with both hands. Nice to be out with a permanent disability check in your thirties. I doubt his next employer was so discriminating.

  • timbo||

    I just hope the federal government lets this all run its course. I think it will have to since every aspect of American government is fiscally insolvent.

    As long as we don't bailout California or Chicago, or every other totally bankrupt institution, then watching them implode will be punishment enough.

    The comedy of course will be just like Puerto Rico. Those dumb shits did this to themselves by electing morons spenders for politicians and now they are crying when it failed. How obnoxious will the CA crybabies be when their pension scams completely fall apart? If you thought the Philly riots were scary after a football game, you ain't seen nothing yet.

    Angry union cave men are no different then rioting murderous looting mobs. They just have political support.

  • Flinch||

    When they come begging for federal money, the state needs to be treated like a proper bankruptcy as the need to restructure is undeniable. Wipe the entire state constitution and start over.

  • MJBinAL||

    The interesting part will be the parade of corporations moving out of those cities and states. Obviously, the cities and states will be forced to tax the crap out of whoever is left. So as people and employers leave, you have to tax those remaining more, causing more to leave, causing taxes to rise, .... continuing until you reach Detroit style total collapse.

  • LarryWilson||

    Used to be we didn't say "fuck the fire department."

    Times are a changing...

    Former fire department paramedic.

  • JoeBlow123||

    I understand what you are saying and even agree, there is a small minority in places like he fire department that abuse the system to the detriment of all.

    In the military I have heard, numerous times, physically fit young men and women talk to each other about their schemes to collect disability. I have met people with zero physical problems collecting disability, and even casually talked about it in the gym with people collecting disability, people talking about their disability payments while doing squats in the gym. These are not people who were ever in combat either, more like I allegedly hurt my back working on a flight line. It is a system ripe for corruption and prone to abuse.

  • retiredfire||

    The Social Security disability program is just as rife with abuse.
    Notice how the number of people on SSDI increased when unemployment compensation rules shortened how long they could freeload on that.
    It is simply human nature that some will abuse systems set up for those truly in need.
    They should be ferreted out and made to pay it all back.

  • Alive Free Happy||

    Enjoy :)
    New year brings new fire department to Calimesa
    https://tinyurl.com/y92wxvol

  • Flinch||

    Sad, but true. This legacy has been building for a long time, and I mark the poisoning of the well when race and gender quotas were set down. That's not equal opportunity, or even affirmative action - the institution itself became racist. So much so, I recall they had a period where if a candidate was a white male they were not even allowed to take the test needed for consideration of a job, thereby locking out application.
    I hate the progs damaging our society - they are hell bent on going back to pure tribalism, and we will look like any one of a dozen shithole countries found around the world if they get their way. Meanwhile... is my local fire station going to have to remove half its equipment so they can build 8 bathrooms to satisfy the lgbtpdqxyz crowd that is about to splinter [yet again]? There are certain people who should not be catered to politically, as there will always be a select group of humanity that gets off by things taboo. Normalize their behavior, and they will shift into something different, making themselves an outsider yet again and with new demands. In that light, we could say... love a homosexual: protect 'traditional' marriage - and two bathrooms is enough.

  • Enemy of the State||

    DROP...as in you taxpayers there, DROP your pants, bend over and grab your ankles...

  • flyfishnevada||

    Obviously, I chose the wrong line of work...

  • LarryWilson||

    ...obviously taking great liberties with the term "work."

  • retiredfire||

    Only if it was your goal in life to scam someone else.
    These are the fringes. Most public sector employees don't abuse the system, like the ones mentioned.
    Though I doubt it is a bad as the LA Slimes reports.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    It's probably worse. Largely because of unions like SEIU. They are pure evil and an enemy of all Americans.

  • Paper Wasp||

    That's okay, I'm fine with dissolving their union and doing away with DROP anyway. Not that it's my business; I don't now and never would live anywhere in California.

    No one should be more fireable than a public-sector employee. No government employee should have any kind of contract guaranteeing them income or automatic raises.

  • Hank Phillips||

    In 1931 Tammany leaders like Sheriff Thomas W. Farley, City Clerk Michael J. Cruise, court clerk Harry C. Perry and Register James A. McQuade had the number and contents of their many bank and brokerage accounts and safe-deposit boxes spread all over the front pages. Sheriff Farley brought the house down with his theatrical tale of the money he magically drew from his "wonderful boxes" while money disappeared no less magically from New York and Chicago banks. But this was two years after County Trust Company banker Riordan shot himself in 1929... so I'm wondering, is Scott looking at the LA Times from 1931 or 2018?

  • Alive Free Happy||

    The City of Calimesa was recently in the news in California for telling CalFire and CalPers to shove off. These state agencies make it so expensive through pensions that small towns are turning away from them for services. Imagine this: It is cheaper now for a town to start it's own Fire Department FROM SCRATCH than to contract the services from the state!

  • Migrant Log Chipper||

    Was working in Cali 10 years ago and read a piece about retiring CHiPs. Virtually all claimed PTSD.....result disability vs. pension. 3 guesses which benefit is tax free?

  • Flinch||

    It is a bit of a joke, but then again... maybe not? I had a conversation with a California police officer mid 90s who told me what the #1 priority for street officers was: identifying race. Not stopping crimes, but checking off a box that would later be used against him. If his citation/arrest stats weren't inside some magical "diversity" number, his career was impinged and could result in formal actions. We all know about the de-facto [or even formal] quotas that various departments have gauging officer performance by the number of stops/tickets issued every month, but put a race quota over that and... they probably do have PTSD from the bombardment of bullshit displacing their oaths, their training and often the law itself. Most officers have endured a multi decade pscyhe warfare bombardment from their own city halls.

  • retiredfire||

    The benefits are tax free, because the payments are from an insurance policy.
    Do you pay taxes on the repair money from your latest car accident? Home damage?
    In some cases, these municipalities self-insure, and thus do pay out the proceeds themselves, but it is because they would have to pay more if they went with a private insurance company.
    And it is the law that every employer have a disability insurance plan for their employees.

  • MJBinAL||

    The payments are not from an insurance company. They are from a government "fund" advertised as "insurance". It is taxpayer money.

  • About Creativity||

    Wow.

  • vek||

    Apparently my grandma should have been a paper pusher for the local PD instead of the country court house... Her pension is pretty garbage, even being in California. It's insane how these government jobs pensions work in a lot of fields though.

  • Flinch||

    Public sector unions are what buried California financially. They ought to be outlawed, but... since when is the state assembly going to snap out of their stupor induced by regular union contributions? Not all assembly members may enjoy indian gambling money, but ALL of them have teachers unions willing to throw money at them. As an aside, if you are ever unsure about how to vote on any measure your absolute best guide for last minute voting is to oppose whatever the CTA has come out in favor of. It's not 100%, but as close to rock solid as you can get.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    CA would be a much better place if atrump put them under martial law.

  • MJBinAL||

    ^THIS^

  • Raoul Duke||

    I have family who work for the Sheriff's Dept of a large city. Every shift of every day is understaffed, requiring somebody to work overtime to cover the shortage. The most senior deputy gets first dibs on taking that shift, so oftentimes a more junior-level position will have the highest-paid guy making double time because they refuse to properly staff the shifts. Many senior guys plan on this and will work double shifts every day they possibly can, earning massive paychecks that could instead support the hiring of 2-3 additional people. It's this sort of system along with the medical leave and pension plans that are going to destroy states like California.

  • retiredfire||

    Actually, overtime cost the municipality less than hiring enough employees to cover all the shifts.
    Regular pay includes all the payments that go out to cover benefits - pension, sick-pay, medical insurance, etc.
    Overtime pay does not have to make those contributions, since their payments are calculated only for the regular work schedule.
    That the most senior deputy gets first dibs on overtime is typical of the benefits of time-on-the-job. But, from my experience, the "senior" level of pay is topped out after about five years - IOW, everyone with more than five years on the job is paid the same, in that same rank. Overtime worked generally is of the rank of the position to be filled - a seargent cant work a deputy's level shift at seargen'ts level pay.
    This is all calculated in advance. No place is going to go bankrupt, as long as the politicians make the payments to the various benefit plans that they are supposed to. It is not on the employees.

  • MJBinAL||

    I am impressed that you were able to get your mouth loose from the public teat long enough to write that line of bullshit.

  • Flinch||

    I'm not clear on specifics, but I believe people under the DOJ have some type of deferred scheme going as well.
    But let's stick to the story at hand. Los Angeles is the worlds capital for fraud - of all types. It might be the pros that whip in front of you to slam on their brakes to create a fender bender: all passengers have been rehearsed to complain of injury, grab necks, etc. It might be the machine of voter fraud and it's Hydra like presence. I recall getting a license renewed over 25 years ago and noticed 3 assaults to the taxpayer within/on DMV property. First thing was... no license booklets available in English. I did have 6 other languages to choose from, and this was just before Bill Clinton had ordered our balkanization. Second was the Lyndon Larouche table set up between the parking lot and the side entrance that was telling people how to vote [on government property]. I did not ask to see a permit, as I was generally repulsed. Third was the man of apparent central american origin selling social security cards within 50 feet of the main street entrance - I discovered him by leaving through that different exit to avoid the LL propaganda table. The city council is it's own special case and... there aren't enough characters left for me to regale their malfeasance.

  • TB||

    Move everyone to Social Security

    Here's my solution:

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B90sU3A
    85q46OE9BZHJFSWEzbGM/view?usp=drivesdk

    Thoughts?

  • EscherEnigma||

    I'm just gonna snag on one point: folks nearing retirement pretty much always abuse medical/sick leave. Why? 'cause unlike annual/vacation leave, it normally doesn't cap and can endlessly accumulate. And when you do retire or quit, they'll pay out full for your annual/vacation leave, but only pay out a fraction for your sick leave.

    There's three basic things you could do to address this.
    (1) Cap off sick-leave accumulation. While this doesn't stop people from abusing it, it does force them to abuse it in a more uniform fashion rather then concentrated in their near-retirement years.
    (2) Pay-out in full for sick-leave on retirement/quitting. This actually means that you'll be spending more on a given employee, but might reduce having to call-in replacements for jobs that won't just wait for them to come back from leave. Someone would need to do the math on this one to see if it saves anything.
    (3) Require doctor's notes for sick-leave. While this would probably nip the whole thing in the bud, it also would probably mean that folk will come in to work even when they should have stayed home because getting a doctor's note, even when you're genuinely sick, isn't trivial.

    So sure, it sounds like there's real problems. But unless LA is doing something weird with medical leave, I don't think this is one of 'em.

  • MJBinAL||

    Most of the companies I know of have transitioned to PTO (Personal Time Off) that replaces vacation and sick leave. Time off is time off and there are limits on how much can be carried over from one year to the next.

  • Curly4||

    This type of corruption happens when democrats who want democrat and union members to vote for them that they are willing to to bribe these union members with public money. Public money that the politician thinks that they will not have to get from the taxpayer with higher taxes while they are in office. These politicians spend freely tax money because they will not be held responsible for the higher taxes after they are out of office. In the meantime they get the vote while the taxpayer gets the shaft. The shaft because all these retirement accounts are running behind in funding even while the retirees are double dipping. Now if the person wants to retire then fine but they cannot take another job with the city, county or state agencies that is covered by the same retirement program.

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    California's taxpayers are held hostage to the influence, power and demands of the public employee unions, particularly police, firefighters and prison guards. There isn't a politician in the state, in either party, with the cojones to take the PEUs on. This above any other single problem will sink the state, if it hasn't done so already.

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