FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
In late 2009, a struggling national economy coupled with an equally depressed financial situation within the state meant massive budget cuts, manpower shortages and rising overtime costs for nearly all California police agencies. Multiple rounds of personnel layoffs seemed inevitable for some of the new hires of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD).
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, however, refused to consider any solution that included any department member losing their job. An informal vacation-relief practice was made formal and directed at personnel working administrative positions within the department. Dubbed “CARP”, all admin personnel (including Sheriff Baca and department executives) began working a standard 32-hour week at their regular job, with an additional eight-hour CARP shift covering a projected frontline overtime vacancy at a patrol station, jail facility or courthouse.
CARPing presently covers 1,400 shifts a week, saving the department 2.4 million dollars a month in overtime costs. Since its inception, the CARP program has saved the LASD over 30 million dollars. Additional benefits include a better well-rounded workforce and greater communication between executives, middle managers and frontline troops. An expected backlog of paperwork has resulted in some problems and grumbling, but the vast majority of department members realize that saving someone’s job in these tough economic times is far more important than a delayed evaluation.
The burst of the housing bubble and resulting economic recession beginning in late 2008 hit California hard. As the state settled into economic doldrums, the operating budget of the largest (nearly 19,000 employees) police agency in the most populous county of the state, the LASD, was slated for decimation. The next two years were marked by budget cuts totalling more than 146 million dollars. In early 2010, the LASD found itself caught in the middle of a perfect storm: massive budget cuts, manpower shortages and rising overtime costs.
In spite of the position these challenges placed the department, there was no option of fielding fewer personnel at frontline “core-services” positions; patrol stations, county jail facilities and county courthouses had to be staffed, and ample security provided on a daily basis. Safety levels for residents and visitors, judges and attorneys, defendants and plaintiffs, inmates and deputies had to be maintained. Previously, the LASD had always been able to fill vacant overtime positions with the deputies at hand. But with dwindling overtime funds and fewer personnel available to hire, where can a department find the additional personnel to cover such vacancies, while at the same time save money?
On the face of it, the primary proposed financial solution looked deceivingly simple, with a double-pronged attack consisting of two extreme money saving elements: a departmental hiring freeze, coupled with multiple rounds of personnel layoffs. Baca, however, made it perfectly clear to all that although he would agree to the hiring freeze, he would tolerate no financial solution that included the loss of a single department member’s job, and he directed department executives to go back to the drawing board, not to return with any prospectus involving layoffs.
The situation was growing dire as overtime funds diminished while field, jail and courthouse personnel quickly reached burnout from heavy doses of forced drafting necessary to cover both planned and unplanned vacancies in the daily shift rosters.
The answer to this situation: a department-wide revision of a 10-year old informal program used for covering planned vacancies. Administrative staff throughout the department would be the center of attention of this updated program, a program with the unusual and instantly recognizable acronym of CARP.
The CARP Solution
The CARP program focused on saving overtime funds by placing administrative personnel, as part of their regular 40-hour week, in overtime vacancies generated by vacations and sick call-ins of those department members who would normally provide “frontline” or “core-service” staffing. Employee salary and benefits made up the largest portion of the department’s overall budget and reducing overtime would result in direct financial savings to the organization without a reduction in supply purchases, new technologies, fixed assets or funded projects. The CARP program was made mandatory in March of 2010, and administrative personnel began working a standard 32-hour week at their usual position, with an additional eight-hour weekly CARP shift covering a projected frontline vacancy somewhere within the county. For the LASD, these frontline services were three-fold:
- Arresting and deterring crime while providing contracted policing services to 42 cities within the county.
- Providing safety for inmates and professional staff within the Los Angeles County jail system.
- Maintaining the safety and security for all 42 county courthouses.
The question of exactly which administrative personnel would participate in CARP was quickly put to rest as Baca donned a gun belt and jumped into a radio car to patrol East Los Angeles, then put on a “Class B” uniform and worked a shift at Men’s Central Jail. Following this lead, everyone who was employed in an administrative capacity, from the department’s major executives to the professional staff, began to CARP. Professional staff (non-sworn) members, while not able to actually cover a frontline position, took over an alternate administrative position for the day, allowing that admin deputy to cover a shift in the street, court or jails.
It was known that there would be some grumbling, but department executives and middle managers aggressively attacked the issue by appearing at daily briefings and unit meetings, explaining the rationale behind the CARP program’s implementation. The department tenet became, “We will suffer together so no one suffers alone” and was hammered into admin staffers. Station captains and watch commanders attempted to answer all questions, and admin staffers were reassured that all admin personnel (senior-supervising line deputies, sergeants, lieutenants, captains, commanders, division chiefs and executives) were part of CARP; everyone would sink or swim together.
The most common question asked at these unit meetings was one that could not be readily answered: “How long will we have to do this?” The usual answer: “For as long as it takes for the economy to recover.” After some initial trepidation and after seeing that any inconvenience derived from CARP was inconsequential compared to laying off hundreds of department members, the great majority of admin personnel bought into the CARP program.
Administrative staff currently use CARP for over 1400 shifts per week. The financial outcome of CARP is significant: the LASD is saving approximately 2.4 million dollars in overtime expenditures a month while maintaining safe staffing levels at frontline facilities. Due to CARP, there has been no drop-off from the previous high standards and safety levels that the residents and visitors of Los Angeles County have come to expect from their law enforcement organization.
Benefits from the advent of CARP were expected by department executives to be largely financial, but other benefits—unseen but nonetheless very much welcome—have manifested as the CARP program has progressed. Two of those benefits stand out.
One is an unmatched rapport among all department members has resulted from executives and middle managers filling vacancies and working directly with frontline troops. With department executives and rank and file members constantly mingling, better communication is the norm. It was thought that this closeness might erode the necessary protocols between levels in the chain of command, but so far this hasn’t been the case. While CARPing, a Division Chief, 20 years removed from patrol, might yield a tactical decision in the street to an experienced and current field supervisor, but rank and respect never go unrecognized.
The CARP program has also resulted in a more well-rounded and empathetic workforce. Department executives are seeing firsthand the results of their mandates and policy orders. Through the cooperation of the rank and file, these executives are relearning jobs and positions once thought to be part of their past. Consequently, rank and file members have learned much of the duties, responsibilities and decision making processes of those who have attained much higher rank as both groups work side-by-side. Lower-level supervisors find themselves in the enviable position of being able to ask questions and discuss departmental matters directly with department executives on a weekly basis. Rank and file members are using this golden opportunity to soak up information from command staff personnel from divisions scattered throughout the department, leading to a greater understanding of the department overall. Simply stated, the CARP program has helped to build greater mutual respect, credibility and empathy among fellow employees.
The initial consequences of CARP manifested in an increased (and expected) administrative backlog, with admin personnel working unfamiliar assignments and dealing with weekly changes in location and hours. However, as the program has progressed, CARPing has become semi-routine, with CARPers seeking out CARP shifts at stations, courthouses or jails with which they are comfortable or closer to home. CARP was initiated to cover only foreseeable overtime vacancies, but over a year into its implementation, CARP has hit its stride and unplanned vacancies are increasingly being filled by CARP personnel. The admin backlog is understood as a necessary byproduct of CARP, and department members understand that saving jobs is far more important than delayed evaluations or late paperwork.
The LASD family has united in the face of current economic woes and solved the problem of keeping the populace of Los Angeles County safe, while cutting costs until the state and county’s financial situation improves. The fact that all admin personnel are included in the CARP program, along with the knowledge bad economic times can’t last forever, fortified department members can pull together until CARP is no longer needed.