LAPPL Blog: The official blog of the Los Angeles Policy Protective League
Pension holidays aren’t just “ancient history”
By LAPPL Board of Directors on 12/22/2010 @ 04:37 PM
A “pension holiday” is when a public employer does not make payments into a pension fund because it believes there are enough earnings in the pension system to pay the employer’s annual required contribution.
CBS’ 60 Minutes is one of the highest rated and most respected news programs on television today. Millions of people tuned in to last Sunday’s program, which featured a segment called “State Budgets: The Day of Reckoning.”
Reporter Steve Kroft surveyed the shaky financial footing of many U.S. states and zeroed in on public pensions. Buried in the story was an often-ignored key fact: in good times, public employers in Los Angeles and across the nation took long pension holidays.
- Kroft interviewed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Incredibly, to Christie the fact that New Jersey failed to make pension contributions for 13 of the last 17 years, leading in large part to his state’s pension deficit, is just “ancient history.” In New Jersey, apparently, history repeats itself. Even though he was fully aware that the state’s failure to make its required annual payments is what caused the problem, Christie refused to make the required payment for 2010 as well! So much for solving the problem, Governor.
- Likewise, in California, the University of California pension plan serves as the prime example of why pension plans get into trouble. For 20 years – that’s right, 20 years – the University didn’t make the required annual contribution. Instead, it cannibalized fund earnings to make its payment – despite warnings at the time that it needed to make these payments. The once well-overfunded plan now faces a large deficit – and instead of accepting responsibility for the University’s failure to make payments, the UC Regents, who govern the University system, are cutting pension benefits for new, and perhaps current, employees.
It may be all too common and convenient for politicians to ignore the “ancient history” of bad decisions that led to today’s funding problems – but doing so means letting the old opponents of defined benefit plans mislead the public. Had those annual contributions to the pension systems been made and then allowed to multiply during the great market run-ups of the last 20 years, pension plans would today have substantially more money than they actually do.
Fitch Ratings, an independent agency that grades government debt, noted in a press release last week that the variance in funded ratios for public pension plans is directly tied to the willingness of the underlying employers to make their annual payments. The release states that “Specific examples of the wide variations in pension situations include North Carolina's Teachers' and State Employees' Retirement System, which was funded at 95.9% as of Dec. 31, 2009, down from 104.9% two years earlier due to market losses, but nonetheless very well-funded. The state and other member governments have a demonstrated commitment to fully funding their ARC (annual required contribution). In stark contrast, the State of Illinois' five retirement systems combined had a funded ratio of 50.6% as of June 30, 2009, down from 63.6% two years earlier. The state had consistently underfunded its ARCs even prior to the market downturn and the state's fiscal crisis. This poor funding history is one among a number of reasons that Illinois' credit rating, at 'A', is among the lowest of the states.'”
The good news for Los Angeles is that the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pensions system – even after the economic downturn – is currently 91.6% funded. Police officers and firefighters contribute up to 9% of their pay biweekly, but even with this sizable contribution, the majority of the money funding the pension system comes from returns on investments, not the City’s or employees’ contributions.
The sad part for the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pensions system is that over the past 20 years, the City of Los Angeles took contribution holidays. For several of those years, it added little or nothing to the system. Had the City simply made all its required annual payments, the system would’ve currently been funded at over 100%. During those years, the pension reformers of today remained silent as the government shirked its pension obligations, helping to create the current situation. But that part, of course, is often overlooked in news stories on pension systems – the 60 Minutes piece being no exception. To quote Chris Christie, it’s just “ancient history.”
The fact is that defined benefit systems, properly funded by their employers, provide a secure retirement in an affordable manner for their members. No amount of bluster by politicians like Chris Christie can obscure this fact.
The City Attorney’s defense of LAPD officers deserves recognition and thanks
By LAPPL Board of Directors on 12/20/2010 @ 09:25 AM
In the course of conducting our business and advocating for our members on many fronts, we can sometimes be remiss in not taking the opportunity to thank the dedicated attorneys who work day in and day out to defend the men and women of the LAPD. We’d like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to the Office of the City Attorney, specifically its Police Litigation Unit (PLU), which has been defending the Department and the City for over 19 years.
We would also like to extend a special thanks to Supervising City Attorney Cory Brente, who’s been with the City Attorney’s Office for nearly 20 years now. Cory and the Police Litigation Unit have dedicated themselves to the representation and defense of Los Angeles police officers in civil lawsuits. Brente’s team has successfully defended hundreds of officers in state and federal courts, and we are extremely grateful to have them in our officers’ corner.
Among the PLU’s successes this year is its victorious defense of LAPD officers and detectives in two civil cases with recent verdicts.
In the first case, Brente led the defense against a civil lawsuit brought by a woman alleging excessive force by officers in the 2008 Crenshaw-area shooting death of her husband. Even though the shooting had been thoroughly investigated by the District Attorney's Office, which found no grounds for prosecution of the officers, she was not dissuaded from filing the suit. Ultimately, the facts, evidence and deft legal work by Brente’s team persuaded a Los Angeles Superior Court jury to find in favor of the officers, clearing them of the charges and shielding the City’s general fund from an unjustified payout.
In the second case, a lawsuit brought by Timothy Gantt and Michael Smith, both convicted for the 1992 murder of 23-year-old Kalpesh Vardhan, claimed that Gantt and Smith were maliciously prosecuted and that detectives had conspired to frame them for the murder. Deputy City Attorneys Geoff Plowden and Surekha Pessis, through their skillful defense, made quick work of the claims and led the way for the jury’s unanimous November 2010 verdict in favor of the City and the LAPD detectives.
Los Angeles is indeed very fortunate to have such an effective and diligent legal team working to protect its officers and the City’s resources.
Colton city leaders’ unbalanced spending will come at a cost to public safety
By LAPPL Board of Directors on 12/17/2010 @ 04:25 PM
While at times the League and City leaders may not see eye to eye on issues of staffing and budget balancing, the residents of Los Angeles can always rest assured that public safety, entrusted to our world-class police force, never takes a back seat to political disagreements. But other cities aren’t as fortunate.
Colton, California, a 21-square-mile city with a population of nearly 52,000, may very well lose 16 of its 60 police officers to close the city’s budget gap. There’s nothing novel about city layoffs in our current economic environment, but when a city government keeps hiring high priced department directors, while pushing the firing of police officers and rejecting good-faith solutions, things don’t add up.
The City of Colton is facing some serious financial shortfalls. And Colton city leaders are looking to make up for them by giving at least 16 Colton police officers their walking papers. A tough measure for an indisputably tough situation, but is it really that cut and dry?
One has to wonder how a cash-strapped city like Colton can afford the personnel spending spree cited by the Colton Police Officers Association on their website. The questionable hiring began in September 2009, when Colton picked up a new finance director at $143,141 per year. Since then, enough money was found to hire new directors of Development Services and Public Works, at annual salaries of $140,000 and $145,000, respectively; and a new HR manager at $105,000. Curiously enough, city leaders have been making public declarations that the city is broke, but they still doled out over $300,000 for consultants and studies in the last year alone. The city manager himself is collecting an annual salary of $220,000 (plus a monthly $600 car allowance) to run this small working-class city.
The Colton Police Officers Association, meanwhile, has been doing its best to offer solutions that don’t include having fewer officers looking out for residents of a city with the dubious distinction of highest per capita rate of violent crime in San Bernardino County. The Association offered a package of financial concessions totaling over $1 million, but it wasn’t good enough for city leaders, who instead decided to drop some more Colton taxpayer money on a PR firm to take on the Association and put a positive spin on the city’s unbalanced spending.
Colton’s city leadership is not being honest with the media or the public. Instead of mounting a media campaign to discredit the concessions its officers are making, they should reexamine their spending and work harder and more honestly to find budget solutions that don’t leave Colton city residents – and their safety – on the losing side of negotiations.
L.A.’s red light cameras will be a money-losing safety tool as long as county courts remain slack on collections
By LAPPL Board of Directors on 12/15/2010 @ 04:45 PM
The Los Angeles Police Commission yesterday received and approved a report from Police Chief Charlie Beck detailing the reasons why the LAPD will continue to back the Photo Red Light Program (PRLP) as a traffic safety tool, despite the program’s operating loss of $2.5 million and perceived lack of results.
The purpose behind red light cameras has always been to reduce the number of serious injuries and deaths caused by red light violations. Anyone who’s ever been “t-boned” or broadsided at an intersection by a red-light runner can truly appreciate the value of enhanced enforcement. But City Controller Wendy Greuel's audit of the red light program noted camera installations were not automatically assigned to the most dangerous intersections (those with the highest rates of red-light related collisions). Nevertheless, the Chief’s report found that since the program’s inception, intersections with cameras showed a 63 percent decrease in red-light accidents and a 10 percent reduction in all types of collisions. But most importantly, there have been no red-light related fatalities since the cameras went up. Bottom line: these cameras have been doing what they’re supposed to.
The real problem with this program, as currently implemented, is that it is operating at a loss. The Controller’s audit determined that over the last two years, the PRLP has not generated sufficient revenue to cover its operation and maintenance expenses, and in fact, has cost the City $2.5 million. Why is this program losing millions? Too many drivers are simply disregarding the citations because doing so carries no consequence.
L.A. County Superior Court doesn’t actively pursue collections on outstanding red-light camera citations. Instead, it outsources this task to a collection agency and forgoes its own administrative collection tools. For other violations, the courts can use procedures like a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) hold for failures to appear. Courts can also enlist the help of the Franchise Tax Board (FTB). The Chief’s report makes a strong case for the effectiveness of these tools. Chief Beck notes that “The DMV hold is an important element to the successful operation of a PRLP. The State legislature recognized this in 1999 when Section 40509 of the California Vehicle Code was amended to specifically allow for notification to the DMV for failure to appear on PRL cases. Without a DMV hold, there is effectively no legal leverage to compel violators to respond to the court order.” The report goes on to detail how the FTB is also an effective tool and why other counties like San Diego are employing it with success.
But for red-light camera citations, the L.A. County Superior Court isn’t bothering. The apparent reason is that these citations require more work to prove that the person being cited was actually driving the car. The result of these slack collection efforts? Approximately 56,000 unsettled camera citations languishing in the court system, costing the City over $7 million in potential revenue. Indeed, the report found that the PRLP generated a jump in the annual number of red-light citations from 14,000 to 59,000, but the collection rate on these was a paltry 23 percent.
The LAPD, Los Angeles Department of Transportation, and the City Attorney's Office have had discussions with court officials to address the low collection rate on PRL citations, but the court’s leadership has refused to modify its current policy. The L.A. County Superior Court must lend a better effort to the success of a program designed to reduce collisions and save lives. Other counties have shown impressive successes in holding red-light violators accountable for their dangerous driving. Our county courts must follow suit.
LAPPL Comments on Biased Policing
By LAPPL Board of Directors on 12/07/2010 @ 12:25 PM
The following commentary was presented by Directors Tyler Izen and Kristi Sandoval to the Police Commission on behalf of the Los Angeles Police Protective League:
The LAPPL is concerned about the tone of the Inspector General's report, comments by Commissioners on biased policing and, the impact they will have on our membership.
The Chief, the Department and our members are committed to Constitutional Policing, strong civilian oversight provided by the OIG and the Police Commission, enhancing the overall quality of biased policing investigations, and reducing the number of biased policing complaints. The Inspector General acknowledged the Department’s progress and effectively endorsed their biased policing investigative process by only making training recommendations for additional improvement.
Unfortunately, the focus of the discussion has turned to the ever controversial adjudication of these exhaustive investigations. Our members are not guilty of biased policing and want to be told that the investigations have supported their assertions. On the other hand, complainants and others believe that biased policing occurs and will be no more satisfied with a “not resolved” finding than an “unfounded” finding.
Biased policing cases account for just four to five percent of external complaints made annually. Even after exhaustive investigations, the Inspector General was only able to recommend that one in ten biased policing complaints should be unfounded. In all other cases, the Inspector General recommended that the allegations not be resolved. Yet, nearly all of the cases simply involved a police officer stopping someone for a traffic violation and giving them a ticket. Case Number 9 is perfect example of where the Inspector General lost its compass.
That case simply involved a motorcycle officer who wrote an African-American woman a ticket for crossing against a crosswalk. She claimed she was given a ticket because she was Black while white violators were let go. Yet, this motorcycle officer was proven to have written thousands of tickets per year with only about 5% being issued to African Americans. Yet, the Inspector General cannot recommend that the claim of racial bias was unfounded?
The Department is spending millions of dollars a year on investigating claims of racial bias. Even with the extraordinary resources and commitment expended on these extensive investigations, not one allegation has been sustained. The Commission spends more time concerning itself with biased policing than it does with the murder rate or terrorist threats in the City. Our members are convinced that the Commission seeks a sustained allegation of biased policing. This is the environment in which Los Angeles police officers police the City.
Let me tell you what occurs when a police officer is accused of writing a ticket due to someone’s race. They are sat down in an interrogation room and read their Miranda rights like a common criminal. Then they are interrogated, often for several hours, on what they did when they simply wrote someone a ticket. It appears that Internal Affairs investigators, directed by the Commission and the Inspector General, will now make the officers defend themselves as to why they are not racists. This is the environment in which Los Angeles Police officers find themselves today.
While we support added training for Sergeants for the intake of complaints, we believe that the real solutions are found in preventing the biased policing complaints and addressing the divide between those who believe that biased policing occurs and our members who are serving the people of this city to the best of their abilities without any concern as to race, sexual preference, ethnicity, or gender.
We believe that one tool to support that goal is the concept of mediation. The LAPPL participated in talks with the Department and many community representatives on the concept of mediation of some of these complaints. Incredibly, the DOJ has said they do not support this concept. Why? Considering there has never been a sustained complaint in the Department or even in other jurisdictions with hundreds of biased policing complaints, mediation is the best alternative. We have a plan that is supported by the LAPD and even the ACLU. Only because of DOJ interference has the plan to handle racial bias complaints not been enacted. We call on the Commission to proceed with the concept.
That is the environment we would like Los Angeles police officers to work in.
We are at about 300 murders a year – too many yes – but considerably lower than in any time in recent history. That is in part because LAPD officers engage in proactive police work. The surest way to discourage proactive police work is to create a climate where police officers believe that bogus complaints, including complaints of racial profiling, will be sustained because political pressure demands some heads on a platter. The commission appears to be getting so desperate for a conviction that even not allowing the officers to refresh their memories by reviewing their own documents before being interrogated is being contemplated.
Mark my words – drive and wave – will happen if a climate is created by some on the Commission that leads officers to believe they will not get a fair hearing when a complaint is made. This is NOT in the best interest of the City.
Finally, let me say, we are proud of the work our officers do each and every day. It is motivated by an abiding interest in preserving public safety, not to satisfy some racial bias. We ask you join us, by both your words and actions, in supporting these hard working officers. Thank you for your time and attention.
Where are the police we paid for?
By LAPPL Board of Directors on 12/03/2010 @ 08:19 PM
The following editorial was published in the Los Angeles Times on December 2, 2010.
When the city council voted to raise trash fees in 2006, the action came with a promise to Angelinos that the money would be put toward expanding the Los Angeles police force to 10,000 officers. But even as we’ve moved closer to meeting that goal on paper, the number of officers on the street is being eroded.
Because of attrition, early-retirement incentives and mandatory furloughs, the number of police officers doing actual police work is gradually declining, and the problem is becoming more acute.
One huge reason is that the City is no longer paying officers for overtime. There is no way to avoid overtime in police work: an officer making an arrest, say, can’t simply let a suspect go because a work shift has ended. But now, rather than paying for that overtime, the department requires officers to “bank” the extra hours for future use in the form of time off. In order to avoid having to pay out overtime money, the LAPD has begun to force officers to use their banked time off as soon as they reach overtime balances of more than 250 hours. This overtime compensation change alone has meant that over the course of a month some 540 fewer officers are performing their regular duties.
Another huge problem is the use of sworn officers to do jobs that should be performed by civilians. With a city hiring freeze in effect, essential administrative jobs previously held by civilians can’t be filled and so are now being performed by police officers. Some 154 officers are now carrying out the work of civilians. Come February, things will get even worse as the LAPD implements its plan to pull nearly 90 officers off the streets to staff the new Metropolitan Detention Center in lieu of hiring civilian jailers.
In total, the LAPD will have removed more than 775 police officers from the streets come February.
City leaders very well know they could not have passed their plan in 2006 to charge higher trash fees without the promise to increase the size of the LAPD. What voters don’t realize today is that the promise has turned into a sham because of the huge number of officers being sent home or put to work in capacities other than protecting the community. No matter how one looks at it, reassigning police officers to non-law enforcement duties while touting an expansion of the police force is disingenuous and dishonest.
If the department continues enforcing its overtime policy, the number of officers forced to take time off will climb even higher, as the overtime balances of many more officers reach the 250-hour mark. In response, and in a graphic demonstration of their desire to serve the people of Los Angeles, a number of experienced and dedicated homicide detectives have donated some of their banked time off to a Catastrophic Leave Fund that benefits officers in need of time off for extreme family emergencies or illness. The detectives have done this for the sole purpose of lowering their overtime balances so they can stay at work and do their jobs. But police shouldn’t have to work for free.
Everyone agrees that the closure of the Parker Center jail is long overdue. But it is not prudent or fiscally responsible for sworn police officers to work as jailers at the new detention center. It isn’t the job they were hired to do. Moreover, it represents a poor return on the significant investment that city taxpayers have made in training the men and women of the LAPD.
So what can we do? It is time to end the shell game. City leaders must revisit their policy decisions that force Chief Beck to staff civilian assignments with sworn LAPD officers. The overtime policy, too, should be revisited. It’s time to consider temporarily halting the hiring of new officers in order to be able to afford to fill vital administrative jobs with civilians and allow LAPD officers to be deployed in their proper law enforcement roles.
The residents of Los Angeles placed their trust in City leaders to keep their word when they were told in 2006 that the higher trash fees they’d be paying would be used to expand police service. They also trusted their City officials to be good stewards of the general fund by using that money for what it was intended and by using City employees in accordance with their job classifications. That trust has been violated.
Having officers, detectives and specialized resources working on the street is particularly important today, given heightened terrorism concerns both locally and abroad. On top of that, a growing number of parolees are back out on the streets after being released as part of the state’s drive to save money. The department has done an excellent job of reducing crime in recent years, but maintaining those gains requires a full contingent of officers doing the work they’ve been trained to do.
Paul M. Weber is president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League
When it comes to social media, you never know who might be watching
By LAPPL Board of Directors on 11/23/2010 @ 02:50 PM
As police officers, we’ve known for a while now that some of the best places to catch criminals bragging about their illegal activities are social media networks like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube. There have been hundreds of cases across the country in which postings have helped solve crimes, break up drug rings, identify gang members and even catch rampaging teens abusing the homeless. As Todd Wright of NBC Miami put it, “The Internet is quickly becoming a police officer's best friend.”
But common criminals aren’t the only ones getting tripped up by their online indiscretions. According to a recent report in USA Today, police agencies across the country are now reviewing content posted on social networks to screen potential police recruits. And these law enforcement agencies are not alone. A recent survey commissioned by Microsoft found that 79 percent of hiring managers and job recruiters in the United States review online information posted on social networking sites and blogs to screen job candidates, and 70 percent have rejected an applicant based on the information they found. The surveyed professionals believe that the use of this information for screening purposes will “significantly increase over the next five years.”
Over the last few years, a number of law enforcement agencies have fired police officers over inappropriate postings on social media sites. One of the most notorious cases involved a Washington State Patrol cadet who was given the option of either resigning or being fired after officials received a complaint about content on his Facebook page. And the scrutiny is sometimes not limited to Internet content. A few months ago, the nation’s highest court issued a decision in a case dating back to 2003 affirming the City of Ontario’s right to review text messages sent by Sergeant Jeff Quon on city-issued pagers.
The bottom line is that we should all exercise caution and good judgment about what we share online. It’s important to remember that anything we post on a MySpace or Facebook account, or any video we upload to YouTube, could be readily accessed by people we wouldn’t normally share things with – no matter how uninteresting or insignificant we think the posting might be. Many criminals have firsthand knowledge of social media sites. These individuals are sophisticated and proficient in locating people through internet websites.We urge our members to make any and all of their social networking accounts private and accessible only to your most trusted associates. Be extra careful, and don't post anything that you wouldn’t want a criminal or prospective employer (or your mom!) to see.
Below are links to the Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Twitter privacy policies, as well as explanations on how to change privacy settings. The last is a general guide on how to protect your online reputation.
You can’t be too safe.
The state’s paroling policies continue to reward criminals and endanger citizens
By LAPPL Board of Directors on 11/20/2010 @ 02:47 PM
A new report out of Marin County Wednesday has us wondering just how far the State of California will go – and what degree of danger it will deem acceptable – to address a budget crisis of its own making. A San Francisco Chronicle news story revealed the impending release of yet another felon who, despite his deplorable crimes against children, has been designated a “non-violent offender” and will walk out of jail early, unencumbered by the supervision of a parole agent.
If all goes according to the state’s plan, Monday will bring the early release of Winnfred Wright, who in 2003 was sentenced to 16 years in state prison for the death-by-starvation of his 19-month old son and the physical abuse of his 12 other children. Wright’s abuses against his children, whose ages ranged from 19 months to 16 years, included binding and whipping, and even taping their mouths shut for things like “stealing” food and making noise. The Chronicle reports that Ndigo Campisi-Nyah, the toddler who was starved to death, “…suffered a skull fracture, other broken bones, malformed legs, a concave chest and a humped back. He also was found to have symptoms of rickets brought on by starvation.” Despite the sickening nature of his crimes, Wright will soon be out early and unsupervised simply because, according to the state and CDCR’s policy, he is a “non-violent offender.” The Marin County District Attorney has, quite commendably, not let up in its efforts to have the CDCR reconsider its decision to assign Wright no supervision. But as the story reports, it’s unclear what will actually happen, since as of late Tuesday a CDCR spokesperson said that “…the inmate's status was still being assessed and that no decision had been made as to whether his parole will be supervised or unsupervised.”
In another case, two days ago, child rapist Lawrence Joseph Brown was released and then quickly taken back into custody after violating the terms of his parole by being in a car with a female. His inability to follow the rules of his conditional release, however, should have come as a surprise to no one, since it had happened before. He was freed in April, but as an OC Weekly News story recounts, Brown “…quickly violated his parole by becoming transient and masking his GPS by failing to charge the battery to avoid being monitored. On May, 6, 2010, only 10 days after being released from prison, he was violated on his parole and sent back to state prison.”
Many might also recall that soon after the state started releasing prisoners under its Non-Revocable Parole Program, Kevin Eugene Peterson, released 16 days early, wasted no time in committing four felonies: assault to commit rape, sodomy, and oral copulation; sexual battery; false imprisonment and the violation of the terms of his probation. The person he held captive and attempted to rape was a female counselor he was meeting with – 13 hours after he walked out of prison!
State officials must examine the process they use to decide which parolees will be supervised. Clearly, a better review of past offenses needs to take place, and perhaps a little more common sense should be brought to bear on the final determinations. The “non-violent offender” designation is being applied too narrowly. Determining a person’s non-violent status by only looking at the crime for which they are currently incarcerated, and whether it is deemed a “violent felony” by the Penal Code, versus examining their entire criminal history for violent behavior, is resulting in the dumping of violent prisoners into communities where little-to-no supervision leaves them too much leeway to commit new crimes. A tragic and painful reminder of this came earlier this month when Earl Ellis Green, out on parole from state prison with minimal supervision because he was deemed a “non-violent offender,” shot and killed Riverside police officer and Iraq War veteran Ryan P. Bonaminio. Green’s long criminal history included a conviction for domestic violence, and the behavior he exhibited had even prompted his family to seek a restraining order against him, but none of this changed the decision to release him with minimal supervision.
These parolees and their dangerous, repetitive, behavior are only a few examples of how the people of California are being placed in harm’s way to save a buck. As the number of prisoners who are rashly thrown out of jail with insufficient supervision climbs, so do the odds that the majority of them will commit new crimes against residents of this state. Californians deserve a lot better from their leaders than ill-conceived “solutions” that threaten their safety.
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