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HMG-CN INVESTIGATION: La Palma Police Department Bloated With Six Figure Salaries



Five officers account for over 43% of the entire payroll expense.

By Brian Hews

The City of La Palma is in budget crisis mode, with the tiny city projected to run a budget deficit of $836,000 in 2016-2017 on projected revenues of $9,754,000.

It is so bad that La Palma residents will soon be asked whether they would approve a measure on the Nov. 8 ballot aimed at generating additional revenue for the cash-strapped city.

The city hired a consulting firm to prepare at least two mailers explaining the city’s fiscal woes. A $94,000 contract for the outreach was approved 4-0 by the City Council.

“We’re at a critical juncture in our 60-year history, ” City Manager Laurie Murray told the council. “Communicating the city’s fiscal condition is critical to the city’s long-term success into the future. ”

While presenting a mid-year budget update to the City Council, Murray said that La Palma faces a $612,000 shortfall for 2015-2016.  The city has already drastically cut costs, and is even looking at cutting the popular La Palma Days parade.

But City officials refuse to look at the big elephant in the room, the La Palma Police Department.

La Palma is only 1.8 square miles, and a recent CNN report specifically lauded the town for enjoying both “the lowest crime rate and the quickest police response time in Orange County.”

But the residents of La Palma are paying a high price for that distinction.

A Hews Media Group-Community News investigation has revealed that the La Palma Police Department (LPD) pays many of its employees far more than other small cities in Southern California.

And a review of public records from similar sized cities that contract with the Sheriff’s Department in Los Angeles and Orange County revealed that the City could possibly cut the current $4.6 million budget by at least $2 million.

Large Police Budget

For the past few years, the LPD has accounted for nearly half of the city’s $11 million budget.

Police Chief Eric Nunez who recently left the LPD after 25 years to become Chief of the Los Alamitos Police Department, was in charge of LPD for the past five years.

In 2014, Chief Nunez earned $176,171 in regular pay with total pay plus benefits amounting to $253,458, according to the website Transparent California.

Nunez’ department accounted for 41 employees.

Sandra Hutchinson, head of the Orange County Sheriff’s,  earned $214,000 in 2014 in regular pay, with total pay plus benefits amounting to over $409,000.

Hutchins has over 4,000 employees.

Besides Nunez’s quarter million salary, five La Palma police sergeants  earned from $190,000 to $206,000 in salary and benefit packages with one sergeant earning over $60,000 in overtime. The sergeant’s regular pay is $84,000.

The five sergeants plus Nunez accounted for over $1.2 million, or 26% of the department’s $4.5 million budget and over 43% of the entire salary budget. They also earned over $278,000 in benefits, averaging $55,700 each.


La Palma Police salaries sorted by total pay and benefits. Source: Transparent California.

La Palma Police salaries sorted by total pay and benefits. Source: Transparent California.


Transparent California records also show that with base pay, overtime pay, and benefits, a La Palma police officer can earn up to $190,000 patrolling the 1.8 square mile beat.

Additional public records show that many police department employees earn nearly double the median income, $87,763.

Nunez and his sergeants’ salaries were slightly higher than many other Orange County police departments, yet they patrol one of the smallest towns in Southern California—-with a massive budget problem.




In 2015, then La Palma Mayor Peter Kim submitted a request for the City Council to consider appointing a temporary Citizen Committee that would be tasked with reviewing the City’s operations and finances and then recommending to the City Council a plan to achieve long-term financial sustainability.

In their report to City Council, the committee said, “The Police Department is the single largest expenditure of the City’s general fund budget, and will continue to increase over the next decade. As a key component to the City’s financial sustainability, the Committee strongly recommends the City Council explore the option of shared or combined police services or restructuring of the police department as a preference to contracting out the services.”

Yet the report was not backed by police expenses in other cities with Sheriff’s contracts.

HMG-CN research on similar sized cities in Los Angeles and Orange Counties showed that La Palma could drastically cut the police department expense.

Artesia, located in Los Angeles County and in close proximity to La Palma, is smaller at 1.6 square miles and slightly larger in population (16,541) than La Palma. Artesia’s 2015 budget for the L.A. County Sheriff’s was $2.8 million.

The L.A. Sheriff’s Department expense would amount to $169 per person; $2.8 million/16,541.

Stanton, located in Orange County, is larger at 3.2 square miles with a larger population (38,000) than La Palma. Stanton’s 2015 budget for the O.C. Sheriff’s was $8 million.

The Sheriff’s Department expense would amount to $205 per person; $8 million/39,000.

La Palma’s per person expense is $250, 48% higher than Artesia and 22% higher than Stanton’s.

Stanton’s expense of $205 per person would equate to a $3.3 million budget, or a savings of  $1.3 million per year.

Artesia’s expense of $169 per person would equate to a $2.7 million budget, or a savings of $2.9 million per year.

Residents of La Palma are very happy with their police and the response time, but are very unhappy with the current budget situation and cuts to city services.

It remains to be seen what choice residents and La Palma City officials will make.


  • Brian Harms says:

    It doesn’t matter if it’s La Palma or Long Beach or the State of California, if the silent majority doesn’t wake up soon and start speaking. Offending, pointing fingers and yelling enough is enough to the public employees and the special interest groups our golden state will fall like Rome. We can no longer be politically correct and scared to speak our minds. We must take back control of our Government for our use.

  • Arthur says:

    This is terrible and no one is doing a darn thing about this. How stupid to want a panel to tell the council how they should manage costs. What is the council for?

  • Leroy says:

    Governor Brown wants to reduce the amount of cities in the state of California by 50%. La Palma is a perfect example of a city too expensive to maintain on yesteryears budget. Hawaiian Gardens, Artesia, La Palma should merge with surrounding cities to be more financially sound and work efficient. It’s ridiculous the city so small as La Palma, has its own Police Department, when there is virtually almost no crime in the city except for some minor motor vehicle traffic incidents. City has no shopping malls to create a lot of crime and Theft.

    Few Chinese elected council, are only using police to sell safety to the Chinese immigrants purchasing homes in the city. In other words, police is being branded for public relations, to lure Chinese in to city.

    La Palma is too divided:
    RR Tract
    Multiple school districts
    Cerritos Island communities siting in side the city.

  • Burger Mom says:

    La Palma Chinese policemen, and Chinese detectives are as dumb as they were when they lived in their own country, that’s why they fled China. When are the residents going to wake up, recall the council and get a outside management contractor to efficiently maintain the city and abolish La Palma Police Department.

    Theres almost 4 doz staffers connected with the Police Department, that almost 1 cop per 10 residents. Wake up, the city is nothing more then mattress community, with some of the OC county cheapest real estate values. We are not talking million dollar homes, filled with moviestar residents.

    Wages scale reflects corrupt civil unions.

    We need a male city manager, this is result of swinging door female managers, which are not trained to be effective city managers. When was the last time, city had real male city manager, I can count only few in the city’s history, from cows to chinese immigrants population.

    • Todd says:

      Where do you even get your numbers from??? 1 cop for 10 resident??? According to La Palma’s budget, there are 21 cops and about 5-8 civilian full time employees. So 16,000 residents divided by 21 cops = 1 cop for every 762 residents, and that is the whole department, not per shift, which puts the residents to cop ratio higher than 1 cop to over 5000 residents.

  • Hospital says:

    Chart shows approximately 40 police Personnel charged to budget, divide that by 15,500 residences, equates to approximately 400 residents per one police Personnel. That’s way too many police. La Palma has become a police state. There’s mim. crime in the city of La Palma, plus there are no major shopping centers to attract large scale crime. La Palma voters must do the right option, merge with Cypress Police Department.

    Wake up voters, not only 40 personnel, but retirement options to the grave, which are being paid for by the residents. Private Industry does not offer this, why do civil servant employees, feel their retirement must be compensated by residents at large.

    Do feel La Palma could do better at neighborhood watch programs and teach and promote monitored burglar alarm systems to all residents properties.

  • Lee says:

    Just say no to police and their unions.

    Seems like an awfully large police force, just to patrol the high school traffic and give parking tickets to RVs. Does the city even have any automobile accidents, I never see it? When a police force this large has to be used for corralling School students, and chasing RV parking, citizens should wake up and say no .

    Simple say no to police. La Palma has healthy budget, just say no to police unions.