Changes to the fraud-tainted Deferred Retirement Option Plan for police and firefighters, aimed at making it less susceptible to abuse, were tentatively approved Tuesday by the Los Angeles City Council.
The DROP program allows employees of the Los Angeles police and fire departments and some other public safety officers 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 under consideration by City Council, which would require that enrollees be on active duty to be eligible, were proposed by Mayor Eric Garcetti in August.
The council approved the changes on a 12-0 vote on first reading; a final vote will be taken in 30 days.
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 of three days or longer, he or she can continue to retain eligibility for up to 12 months.
The city finalized the proposed 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 city’s administrative officer in 2016 recommended eliminating the program, which was approved by city voters in 2001.
Garcetti’s office said in August that the city will 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.