LOS ANGELES — The city's budget crisis and cap on overtime is forcing homicide detectives to stop work for days at a time, hurting their ability to solve cases, authorities said.
Some detectives said they had to delay interviewing witnesses to killings after supervisors ordered them to take days off.
"Could this cause us to not solve a case? Sure," said Detective Chris Barling, who oversees the LAPD's South Bureau homicide unit.
The 11 detectives in the Southeast Division's homicide squad had to take off 700 hours in February despite opening five new investigations.
Nine of 14 killings reported in the area this year are unsolved.
"That is horrible compared to our typical rates," said Detective Sal LaBarbera, division supervisor. "A few of them would likely already be solved, if I could just let my guys loose to work."
The worst economic decline since the Depression, a steep drop in tax revenue and burgeoning expenses have led to the city's dire financial situation. The city has a $212 million budget deficit that some have estimated could grow to $1 billion in four years without drastic cuts.
The Police Department typically spends about $100 million a year in overtime but plans to allocate less than $10 million for the upcoming fiscal year.
Homicide detectives are among the first officers to be sent home in significant numbers because they routinely rack up overnight and weekend hours. Typically, a third of detectives' pay comes from overtime.
Police Chief Charlie Beck said the overtime limits were painful.
"It has a serious impact on our ability to respond to some of the large, violent incidents we've been experiencing lately," Beck told the civilian Police Commission last week.
Last year, LAPD officers took off about 17,000 hours a month to compensate for some of the overtime they worked, but the figure jumped to nearly 60,000 hours in March, according to department figures.
That lost work time was the equivalent of removing 290 officers from duty.
In the Foothill Division, a cold-case detective was assigned to help solve five new killings in March. Some detectives said they fill out paperwork or make phone calls on their own time.
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"It's really disheartening," said Detective Nate Kouri, who solved more than a dozen cases last year but had to stop working for six weeks beginning in January. "All we want to do is work our cases. That's what we feel we owe to the families of victims."