LAPD officers call absent for nearly 700 traffic surveillance shifts

Last week, dozens of police changes to the Los Angeles County transit system were not completed after Los Angeles Police Department officials called absent nearly 700 times, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said.

The absences, for overtime pay shifts, occurred after chief Michel Moore temporarily froze overtime for the LAPD.

The department spent $ 40 million overtime during a week of protests over police brutality, systemic racism and the death of George Floyd, Moore told officials earlier this month. He said that future overtime would be paid with time off, rather than cash.

The LAPD’s $ 369 million five-year contract to patrol Metro buses and trains in Los Angeles includes an agreement for 1,008 shift workers per week, said LAPD spokesman Josh Rubenstein. Those shifts are filled by officers who work overtime, he said.

From June 12 to 19, LAPD officials asked for 696 traffic police turns to be absent, Metro spokesman Rick Jager said. Most were filled with substitutes, but 171 were left unfilled, he said.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Long Beach Police Department, which patrol the rest of the transit system, had no scheduling problems last week, authorities said.

Some LAPD officers canceled their shifts after learning they would be paid free time, not cash, said Dustin DeRollo, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Protection League, the union that represents base officers.

“It was a big shock,” said DeRollo.

Other officers were sick or tired after working 12 consecutive hours during the protests, said Ron Dickerson, deputy executive director of Metro system security and law enforcement. He said “there was no rebellion of any kind … not ‘blue flu’, that sort of thing.”

Officers do not have to explain why they are canceling their scheduled shifts, and they could have called for “a hundred different reasons,” Rubenstein said.

Once Metro pays LAPD, officers will have the option to convert their free time to cash, Rubenstein said.

“According to past history, he will be paid up to six months later,” DeRollo said. “Frankly, there is a confidence issue right now, with how officers feel about how quickly the change happened.”

The Metro police contract does not include any penalties for failing to meet the required personnel levels, Rubenstein said. If the absences continue, he said, Metro officials could demand in writing that LAPD fix the problem.

When Metro overhauled its police system three years ago, the Los Angeles police’s offer for the lucrative contract depended heavily on overtime. Providing overtime shifts would be more attractive to officers and would be cheaper for Metro than paying the full cost of their wages and benefits, authorities said.

Critics questioned the plan at the time, saying that reliance on overtime could create a police force that didn’t really know the system.

The new police plan, which shares duties between the Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles Police Department and Long Beach Police, nearly doubled the number of uniformed officers in the system.

The approach has recently come under fire from advocates who want Metro to cut police spending and spend more on homeless aid workers, better transit service and free fares.