This week, the Los Angeles Police Department got one step closer to ending a battle with the city for higher wages. Officers have been working without a contract since July. This previous contract guaranteed only small 1 or 2 percent pay increases. Under a new, pending contract agreement, however, LAPD salaries will increase by 8.2 percent over the next four years.
The hard truth here is not whether the city can afford pay raises or even whether the officers deserve it. Craig Lally, current president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, put it best when he said, “I don’t think either side wanted this to drag on any longer. Crime is up. Morale is down. We need to move forward.”
In 2007, Los Angeles raised pay for 20,000 civilian employees by 24.5 percent over the span of several years. Over the same time period, police officers’ salaries raised by only 14 percent. Starting salaries for police officers in neighboring counties such as Santa Barbara and 11 other counties are up to thousands of dollars higher than starting salaries in the city of Los Angeles.
The police union attempted to fix these pay gaps last year by asking City Council for across-the-board pay increases. The council offered a raise for about one-tenth of union officers, an increase to overtime cash and an increase in starting salary, but the union denied the offer. According to union officials, these added increases would still not put the police force on par with other counties.
The union was very straightforward in their demands and made it clear to the city that if raises were not given, Los Angeles risked losing their policemen to other counties. “Our officers are not without alternatives,” the Police Protective League former President Tyler Izen said, “Experienced and well-trained officers are desired by police and sheriff’s departments throughout Southern California.”
A public relations firm hired by LAPD released survey data in January, and according to the firm, “residents overwhelmingly care about three things: increased violent crime, officer compensation, and recruitment and retention of our City’s officers.” In addition, the survey indicated that the majority of residents did not agree with the city’s stance on limiting pay raises for officers.
Mayor Eric Garcetti has been limiting pay raises for all city employees in an effort to lower deficits and balance the city’s budget. His goal is to eradicate the spending deficit by 2018.
In order to accommodate this goal and the city’s budget, the union did not take any raises for the next year. The first raise would not be until July 2016, and the last installment would be in place by January 2018. This is a major sacrifice for the union, given that they campaigned for an immediate pay raise. Their sacrifice would allow the mayor to hold off on pay raises and use the money for services until the contract agreement went into effect.
With growing national concern of police brutality, the last thing Los Angeles needs is an angry, small or out-of-control police force. Low morale means low performance, and with a 14.3 percent increase of violent crime in Los Angeles from 2013 to 2014, Garcetti can afford neither low performance nor the loss of officers to other counties. Surely, the city can find enough money in the budget to ensure the most important service it provides: protection of its residents.
Claire Cahoon is a sophomore majoring in English. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Tuesdays.