LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles City Mayor Eric Garcetti warned on Monday, Sept. 29, that the city government will be ‘coming after’ LAPD and LAFD personnel who might be abusing a program that pays them tax-free salary while out on injury leave.
“Watch out. We’re going to make sure that we’re coming after you,” Garcetti was quoted as saying in an LA Times report.
The Injured on Duty (IOD) leave program allows firefighters and cops to file for leaves and receive 100 percent of their salaries, tax-free, when they are hurt while in the line of duty.
Garcetti’s comments come a day after the Times ran a story about the $328 million the city has spent on salaries, medical bills, and other expenses for police officers and firefighters who filed for various injury leaves from 2009 through 2013.
According to the report, between 2009 and 2013, the total amount paid in salaries to supposedly injured employees increased by more than 30 percent (from $32.3 million to $42.3 million); while the number of personnel who filed for leaves grew by 8 percent, with them being out of work for an average of nearly 9 weeks. The average length of leave period, the report said, increased by 23 percent (from 7.1 weeks to 8.7 weeks), since 2009.
Jack Dolan of the Times wrote that the increased leaves has forced the fire department to spend millions in overtime pay for firefighters covering for the hours of those on leave, and has also reduced the number of police officers patrolling the streets of LA.
However, the mayor did not elaborate on if or how the city government would keep a closer eye on the IOD program.
Nevertheless, Garcetti pointed out that some leaves cause a strain on the city, which covers for the treatment of employees. The city is responding to requests for medical care “too slowly,” Garcetti said.
Dolan wrote that around 50 percent of the medical expenses incurred by the city covers for “so-called cumulative trauma or occupational disease — umbrella terms for ailments that are not linked to a specific on-the-job injury.”
These include conditions that are present in aging bodies, regardless of the workers’ profession — back and join strains, high blood pressure, carpal tunnel syndrome, etc.
According to data from the city’s Personnel Department, only about 1 percent or less of medical expenses were attributed to injuries sustained from acts of violence, smoke inhalation or contact with fire or extreme heat.
However, going after unscrupulous cops and firefighters could prove to be a challenge, as prosecutors and investigators claimed that building strong cases against suspected injury leave scammers is legally difficult.
Dolan wrote that fraud is tough to prove because prosecutors not only have to prove that the erring employee had really engaged in strenuous physical activity during his or her leave —they also need to show that the injury was sustained while off-duty. Another course of action is for prosecutors to prove that the suspected employee had indeed lied about his or her condition to obtain benefits.
(With reports from LA Times)
(LA Midweek October 1-3, 2014 Sec. A pg.1)