L.A. Cops Hindered by Ridiculous Overtime Rules

There is a remarkable documentary series on the A&E television network called The First 48. Each episode follows a team of homicide detectives from the moment they are summoned to a murder scene and for the ensuing 48 hours. As each installment in the series opens, the viewer is reminded of this truism of murder investigations: if no solid leads are developed within those first two days following the killing, the chances of ever solving the crime are cut in half.

As you watch the series you soon realize that homicide detectives very often go without sleep, sometimes even for days. They process crime scenes, examine evidence, and track down and interview witnesses and suspects, most of whom are revealed to be, at least initially, less than forthright in their responses to questioning. On an episode I watched recently, for example, detectives in Louisville investigated a shooting in which a man was killed and two others, including a 14-year-old boy, were wounded by someone who opened fire on a house with an assault rifle. The victims were struck as they lay in bed asleep.

Through the detectives’ dogged persistence during that initial 48-hour period, they identified and arrested a suspect, then recovered the apparent murder weapon in the trunk of one of his cars. As most of them do, the episode closed with the admonishment that although the suspect had been charged, he was innocent until proven guilty. To which most viewers probably said, “Yeah, right.”

It is that kind of perseverance that is the hallmark of homicide detectives, a trait that becomes apparent as you watch them at work in Louisville, Dallas, Miami, and several other cities across the country. Los Angeles is not one of those cities, but if it were, you might see a scenario similar to the following:

LAPD detectives are called to the scene of a murder at two in the morning. They find no one at the crime scene who admits to having witnessed the murder, but there are several people they believe to be withholding information. Through skillful and persistent interviewing of these reluctant witnesses, they come up with a first name and a description of a likely suspect. After many hours of running down dead ends, the detectives at last identify a suspect and determine that evidence at the murder scene links him to the crime. They obtain an arrest warrant for him, and they are at his front door poised to make the grab when a detective’s cell phone rings.

The caller is their lieutenant, who in no uncertain terms orders them not to make the arrest and to return at once to the police station. When they inquire as to the reason for this asinine instruction, they are informed that they have exceeded their overtime allotment for the month and, as the city is facing a dire financial picture, they should go home and come back tomorrow to make the arrest during their normal duty hours. Or, even more incredibly, they might be told to take a week or two off so as to lower their total of accrued compensatory time and reduce the attendant financial burdens to the city’s budget.

That would make for some pretty sorry television, wouldn’t it?  Viewers and sponsors alike would be switching to Dancing With the Stars in droves.  As it happens, it makes for some pretty sorry police work, too, but it is nonetheless only a slightly exaggerated picture of current conditions in the Los Angeles Police Department.