LOS ANGELES — After a turbulent few years during which America underwent a “Defund the Police” experiment, we saw a lot of U-turns. In 2020, then-Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called police “killers” and vowed to cut $150 million from the City’s police budget. A year later, after shootings in L.A. rose 80% and the mayor’s home was vandalized, he reversed course and proposed an increase to the police budget. Within that time, police retirements increased by 45% and resignations increased by 18%.
Almost all police forces have contracted since the beginning of the decade, and recruiting has become ultra-competitive. There are now signing bonuses ranging from $30,000 to $75,000 across California for lateral officers, increases in starting salaries and benefits, and relocation and housing incentives. Agencies outside the city and county of Los Angeles with less stringent COVID mandates have attracted and continue to entice veteran and new officers.
Smart police department management saw the writing on the wall and tried to get ahead of the mass exodus of law enforcement by initiating aggressive retention and expansion campaigns. Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) was not one of the smart ones.
Even after receiving millions in COVID relief funds from the federal government to keep the doors open and the lights on and maintain its employee base, LAWA CEO Justin Erbacci and CFO Tatiana Starostina nearly paralyzed the airport police force — arguably the most vulnerable group of all airport employees, given the retention and hiring crises currently engulfing law enforcement.
One example is during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays of 2022, when more than a quarter of all LAXPD officers who worked holiday shifts were paid late (because CFO Starostina became overwhelmed when she decided to increase her responsibilities by becoming the head of both Human Resources and Payroll divisions). Then, a popular pilot program to implement a condensed work schedule for police officers to boost morale was reversed and eliminated by CFO Starostina.
As COVID-impacted travel has roared back like a lion, and the projected summer travel season is expected to be intense, LAXPD, whose ranks were already at a multi-year low pre-pandemic, is now anemic — with its lowest sworn staffing in the past 15 years.
Defunding the police can come in many forms. Nickel-and-diming public safety is one of them.
LAX’s $15 billion airport expansion program moves forward uninterrupted, the number of highly paid executive/management roles at LAX continues to boom, private contractors are plentiful, and our CEO and CFO salaries exponentially increase — while police get paid late and creative programs to provide a better work/life balance for law enforcement are summarily dismissed.
It is a new day in Los Angeles, with a new mayor who is raising standards. Mayor Karen Bass has set a tone and tempo that LAWA should match. Even though Los Angeles Airport Police and all airport security elements are paid through air travel fees and do not impact the City budget or its tax base, the mayor appoints the CEO and airport management.
“CEO Erbacci, CFO Starostina and the Board of Airport Commissioners need to take their lead from Mayor Bass, which includes prioritizing law enforcement and public safety and not treating them like sideshows,” Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association (LAAPOA) President Marshall McClain said. “It is time for changes at LAX, and LAAPOA stands ready as a willing partner to make them happen.”