“We’re already understaffed. You don’t have enough police officers currently to do the job that is required. It’s going to stretch our resources, and you’re going to lose a lot of very talented individuals with a lot of knowledge and expertise.” Measures have been taken recently by the City Council to boost recruitment and hire new officers to create a 10,000-officer department, a goal set by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. As of January, the LAPD had about 9,475 officers. “The mayor’s plan is to have 10,000 officers in a five-year plan,” said LAPD Cmdr. Kenny Garner, who took over recruiting duties in October 2005. “The 10,000 is doable and it will happen.” The LAPD’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan, implemented in May 2002, allows eligible officers to put their retirement payments in interest-earning accounts for a maximum of five years while they continue to work at their regular salary. At the end of the five years, or earlier, they collect the lump-sum retirement savings and begin receiving their pensions. Already stretched thin battling gang violence amid strained recruitment drives, the LAPD will see its chronic officer shortage grow even more acute later this year when a battalion-size group of senior officers leaves the force. Taking with them some 6,375 years of crime-fighting experience, 255 seasoned officers must go under a deferred-retirement program that was designed to keep veteran officers on the job longer. Their departure will hit the specialized ranks, such as homicide and robbery detectives, especially hard, and will come on top of the hundreds of other officers who leave the LAPD through attrition every year. “It’s going to have a dramatic impact on the department doing their job,” said Bob Baker, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the police officers union. Modeled after similar plans in other police agencies, the Los Angeles Police Department’s deferred retirement has allowed the 255 officers leaving by October of this year to stay on years after they might otherwise have retired. The LAPD says the plan is cost-neutral and has kept years of institutional knowledge and expertise on the force. Also, it has bought LAPD brass more time to train replacements. Once-off effect This year’s large number of retirees in the deferred plan is considered a once-off effect, attributed to heavy sign-ups in the initial months of the program. In subsequent years, the LAPD expects deferred-retiree departures to be spread out more than this year and not have such a strong impact on the force. Still, with the police force struggling to reach the mayor’s goal of 10,000 officers, some law enforcement officials are concerned about the experience deficit that will remain when the seasoned officers leave this year. Baker, of the police union, said city officials did not respond fast enough to find a consistent funding source to pay for new officers. “The city squandered the five years. They didn’t put in a good plan,” Baker said. “They didn’t take this seriously, and we find ourselves in the position we are in today.” Until the City Council passed Villaraigosa’s trash-fee hike proposal last year to help finance his and Police Chief William J. Bratton’s plan to add 1,000 new officers, the LAPD lacked a consistent funding source for additional officers, critics say. “What has been frustrating for those of us who have pushed to expand the department for several years was the lack of a dedicated funding source for new officers,” said Councilman Jack Weiss, who heads the City Council’s Public Safety Committee. “Recruiting has to be at the forefront of everybody’s agenda precisely because the drop-off (for the hundreds leaving DROP this year) is so precipitous,” he said. The goal of the deferred-retirement plan was to increase the number of years of service for retiring senior officers from around 27 years to 30 years. At a June 2005 meeting of the Public Safety Committee, the LAPD said a tougher recruitment drive was needed due to hundreds of sworn officers leaving the deferred-retirement program by 2007 and concern over the impact it would have on detective ranks. Meeting hiring goals The City Council approved hiring 720 officers for that fiscal year, but the LAPD hired just 603. For fiscal year 2002-03, the LAPD actually surpassed its new-hire goal when it added 672 new officers, well above the projected 360. But over the next three fiscal years, the department hired just 1,300 officers, about 22 percent fewer than its goal of 1,674. Responding to the impact of the deferred-retirement plan, the City Council is considering an LAPD request to extend to one year from three months the amount of time the police chief can bring retirees back on the force for a maximum of one year. “Generally, we see that a lot of people are leaving,” said Garner, the recruiting coordinator. “The good news is it’s not all at once … (We recognize we’re) losing experience and the chief is taking a look at keeping people in critical positions (through the extension.)” But some officers left to deal with the immediate aftermath of the departure of so many seasoned veterans are concerned. “If we had a thousand guys in the academy, they wouldn’t be worth (anything) for two years,” said Detective Richard Wheeler, who recently took over lead homicide detective duties at the North Hollywood Division from 35-year veteran Mike Coffey, who has left under the deferred-retirement program. “And all the people that are leaving, it ain’t the two-year cops, it’s the Mike Coffeys.” [email protected] (818) 713-3329160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. 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