By David Zahniser
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — More than 300 Los Angeles Police Department officers and family members packed a City Council meeting Tuesday to demand across-the-board pay increases, warning the department will lose officers if one isn't provided.
Nearly a month after officers rejected a one-year contract offer, officials with the Police Protective League said the LAPD's starting salary has fallen behind pay for officers in at least 13 other Southern California law enforcement agencies. LAPD officers have already begun heading to other departments, union leaders told the council.
"Our officers are not without alternatives," said league President Tyler Izen, whose union represents around 9,900 officers. "Experienced and well-trained officers are desired by police and sheriff's departments throughout Southern California."
Mayor Eric Garcetti and council members have been trying to hold the line on raises across the city workforce as part of a larger strategy to limit the growth of pension costs and erase a spending deficit by 2018.
The city budget's yearly contribution for the retirement benefits of police and firefighters is expected to quadruple to $710 million in 2016 from $175 million in 2005, according to a report submitted to the council in April. Each increase consumes money that could be used to pay for basic services.
The contract rejected by officers three weeks ago would have hiked the pay of nearly 1,000 officers who were hired since 2009 with a salary 20% lower than their counterparts. The deal also would have increased the amount of cash overtime paid to officers this year to $70 million, up from $15 million last year. And it would have boosted the starting salary of officers to $57,420 a year from $49,924.
Even with that increase, starting pay would remain below pay at police agencies in Santa Monica, Simi Valley and other cities, according to league officials. Officer Peter Repovich, who serves on the union's board, said the LAPD should be at the top of any salary survey of the region's police agencies.
"We want to be first," he said. "We're No. 1 and we deserve it," Repovich said.
Officers used the council meeting to voice their frustration over the high cost of housing, child care, gas and food. One said the rank-and-file was "offended" by the pay gap with other departments, while another asserted that more than 130 officers left last year for other agencies. A department official was unable to confirm that number Tuesday.
Council members are set to meet Wednesday to receive an update on the salary talks. A spokesman for Garcetti -- who is out of the city on vacation -- referred The Times to a video recorded last week by the mayor on the contract.
Councilman Bernard C. Parks, a former police chief who has been at odds with the league, said employee pension costs are still growing substantially. Although the city's financial picture has improved, "the problem is not even close to being solved," he said.
LAPD officers did not receive raises from 2009 to 2011. As the city emerged from the recession, small increases were awarded: 1% on July 1, 2012; 2% on Jan. 1, 2013; 1% on July 1; 1% on Nov. 1 and 2% in March.
Budget officials have urged lawmakers to hold off on raises for all employees. But Sgt. Jerretta Sandoz said police should not be lumped in with other city workers when it comes to salary talks. "Comparing us to civilian workers is like comparing apples to oranges," she told the council.
"LAPD officers are the best of the best. We're world class," Sandoz later added. "You have to pay us like we're world class or else Torrance, Santa Monica, Redondo Beach -- they'll be taking us."
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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