Changes to the fraud-tainted Deferred Retirement Option Plan for police and firefighters were approved by the Los Angeles City Council Tuesday, with a goal of making the program less susceptible to abuse.
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 changes, which require that enrollees be on active duty to be eligible, were proposed by Garcetti in August.
The new requirements 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 council approved the changes on a 12-0 vote on first reading in December, but another vote was required after 30 days to make the action final, and the council’s new vote tally was 14-0. Garcetti will need to sign the ordinance to make the alterations official.
The DROP 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 city finalized the 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, but the ensuing report in December found that the program is not cost-neutral, according to The Times.