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Whittier police officers receiving $5,500 bonuses to stay one year

WHITTIER — In an effort to prevent Whittier police officers from leaving for other agencies, the City Council this week approved $5,500 retention bonuses for all of its officers.


By accepting the bonus, officers agree to stay in Whittier through the end of their labor agreement, which is set to expire July 1, 2021.


City Manager Brian Saeki said the Whittier Police Department has lost several officers to neighboring agencies offering better pay and benefits.


Replacing those officers is difficult because the pandemic has closed or slowed down the academies that train new police officers, said interim Police Chief Aviv Bar.


Whittier is budgeted for 121 police officers, responsible for patrolling incorporated Whittier and Santa Fe Springs. However, only 110 of those positions are filled, and about 10 officers are out due to injury, leaving 100 available police officers, Saeki said.


A recent study concluded that Whittier requires 136 officers for adequate policing, Bar said.


Council members voted 5-0 to approve the bonuses, which comes at a time when protestors around the country are calling on local governments to defund or reform their police departments.


Mayor Pro Tem Henry Bouchot called the retention bonuses a separate issue.


“I think it’s potentially misleading to look at this as part of a conversation we started having about a month ago,” Bouchot said. “This is a separate issue. It has to do less with the state of public safety in this city generally, which is a conversation we have scheduled and that we’re going to have, and more to do with a couple of duties that we have.


“And the first duty is to our residents and the idea of doing no harm. It’s clear to me that if we continue to lose further officers, we’re going to be put in a position where our department is stretched so thin that the likelihood of violent confrontation, of the loss of civilian life, and potentially the loss of sworn lives through things like car accidents and other injuries… above all we need to protect life. And that means to give people the opportunity to have reasonable amounts of rest and the ability to recuperate from long shifts. 


“Second of all, I think we have a duty to our employees. It’s not been lost on me just the extra demand for police services over the Fourth of July holiday, during our recent protests, and also just being out there with the public during a time of worldwide pandemic. When you have employees who are putting themselves at greater risk, in a way that no other employee class in this city is doing, I think that’s something that should be rewarded with something more than a handshake and a smile.”

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