You may have read an article recently about two Los Angeles motorcycle cops who were told to write 18 traffic tickets per shift. They objected. Quotas of that sort are illegal in California. As a result of their failure to fill their quotas, they claimed, they were given poor performance evaluations, threatened with reassignments and otherwise harassed by commanders.

So they sued the Los Angeles Police Department, and two weeks ago a jury awarded them $2 million.

Now, you may be tempted to assume that this is a random, one-off aberration. But you’d be wrong. It’s the latest in a string.

For example, an LAPD officer named Richard Romney had testified for another officer who was having a labor dispute with the department. Afterwards, Romney was fired. He sued. In November, an L.A. jury awarded him $4 million.

The Los Angeles Police Protective League recently toted it up, and it said the Police Department and the city have been ordered to pay 15 current and former officers a total of $45 million just in the past three years. That’s thanks to the Police Department’s employment practices. Or malpractices.

Let’s stop for a moment to put that $45 million in perspective.

A few months ago, the city made an ill-fated attempt to essentially sell off some of its parking garages. That was projected to raise $53 million immediately and was pitched as the centerpiece of a plan to save the city from its then-$63 million budget shortfall.

Do you think that $45 million (plus attorneys’ charges in some cases) would have come in handy? If they city hadn’t been saddled with those costs, maybe it wouldn’t have needed to try to sell off its garages. At the very least, the city’s financial crisis wouldn’t be as severe.

Now, you may be tempted to assume that big personnel payouts are limited to the Police Department. But you’d be wrong.

Remember the firefighter who was served dog food in an apparent prank by his colleagues a few years ago? He was paid more than $1.4 million. (And taxpayers got dinged for an additional $1.3 million to pay for the city’s lawyer and other legal fees.) Oh, and two Fire Department captains who were disciplined for participating in that prank? They sued and got $2.5 million last year. (Plus the city paid $700,000 for its lawyer in that case.)

Sadly, the dog-food case is no aberration for the city’s Fire Department. According to an Associated Press article in 2007, the Fire Department paid out $15 million in such personnel cases from 2005 to 2007.

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