City and labor leaders have agreed to changes to the controversial Deferred Retirement Option Plan for police and firefighters, aimed at making it less susceptible to abuse, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Friday.
The DROP program allows employees of the LAPD and LAFD who enter the program near the end of their careers to collect their pensions for five years while also collecting their paychecks — but the payments keep coming even if the worker is sidelined due to injury or illness.
The program was designed to retain experienced first responders, but a Los Angeles Times investigation found that almost half of enrollees from July 2008 to July 2017 — more than 1,200 public safety officers — subsequently took disability leaves, typically claiming bad backs, sore knees and other age-related ailments.
Leaves averaged 10 months, but in hundreds of cases lasted for more than a year, the newspaper reported in February, while also finding that from July 2008 to July 2017, more than a third of police officers and 70 percent of Los Angeles Fire Department employees who entered the DROP program went out on injury leave.
The changes announced by Garcetti — which are pending City Council approval — would require that enrollees be on active duty to be eligible.
“DROP is an important program that keeps our best officers and firefighters on the job longer — now we have a chance to make it even more effective,” he said. “These improvements will prevent abuse, and help us make sure we’re putting every available resource into making our city safer for Angelenos. I am grateful to our officers and firefighters for their collaboration, and for the sacrifices they make to keep us safe every day.”
The new requirements, which would go into effect early next year, would make participants ineligible for their pension accrual if they serve fewer than 112 hours on active duty in a given month. If a participant incurs a serious injury in the line of duty that results in a hospital stay for three days or longer, they can continue to retain eligibility for up to 12 months.
“I previously called on our public safety partners to work quickly with us to eliminate abuses in the DROP program,” City Councilman Paul Koretz said. “I am pleased that these proposed revisions to the DROP program do just that.”
The city finalized the new DROP improvements through a tentative agreement reached with the Los Angeles Police Protective League, United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, Los Angeles Police Command Officers Association, Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Officers Association, Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association, Los Angeles Airport Police Supervisors Association, Airport Police Command Officers Association, Los Angeles Port Police Association and the Los Angeles Port Police Command Officers Association.
Under the pending agreement, if participants leave active duty, and become ineligible for their pension accrual, they can come back to work and make up that accrual for up to 30 additional months, once the standard five-year period expires.
“The residents of Los Angeles expect us to protect their taxpayer dollars,” said Councilman Mitchell Englander, who is a reserve LAPD officer. “I’m grateful that we were able to work collaboratively with first responders and their labor representatives to reform DROP. These long overdue changes will ensure that we are able to continue retaining experienced law enforcement and emergency response personnel while eliminating any loopholes or potential for abuse.”
The city’s administrative officer recommended eliminating the program in 2016, which was approved by city voters in 2001.
Garcetti’s office said the city will also conduct a financial analysis of DROP to ensure that it continues to be cost-neutral, which is a process that must occur by law every five years.