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.

OK, so the city’s bad personnel practices have cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in recent years. But is the city otherwise a fair steward of our money?

No, Sherlock. According to an audit released last summer by City Controller Wendy Greuel, six city departments collected only 53 percent of what they were owed. Since they were owed a total of $553 million, that means the city lost out on $260 million. That’s for six departments. For one year.

Again, let’s put that number in perspective. The mayor last week proposed a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that envisions borrowing $43 million to squeak by. Do you suppose that $260 million – or one-fourth of it – would come in handy?

The reason I bring all this up: People all over town, especially businesses people, assume that sooner or later their city taxes will go up. They assume the city’s stuff may be sold, more services will be cut, more layoffs will follow. They assume fees will be ratcheted up, potholes won’t be filled and quotas for traffic tickets will go up. Even though quotas are illegal.

We could send a river of money to the Los Angeles City Hall, but as long as much of that money swirls down an immense drain of waste, well, probably no river would be wide enough.

Before we send more money to City Hall, or accept many cuts, maybe the business community should demand that City Hall first show respect for the considerable amount of money we already send in.