The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday directed the county’s chief executive officer to work with staff to determine the feasibility of allowing unincorporated areas to establish Community Service Districts as a way to hold the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department accountable for law enforcement service levels.
The motion by Supervisor Gloria Molina comes shortly after the board learned that since Jan.13, the number of patrol cars in unincorporated areas were reduced because station captains were ordered not to use overtime. Last week, Molina accused Sheriff Lee Baca of “stealing” police resources from residents in unincorporated areas, providing better service to contract cities than to unincorporated areas.
Molina’s motion also coincides with an audit by the county’s auditor-controller which found that the response time to emergency calls in unincorporated areas were on average one minute longer than in cities that contract for law enforcement services from the sheriff’s department.
The supervisor authored the motion to demand sheriff patrol equity, something the county already pays for but is not getting, Molina’s spokesperson Roxane Marquez told EGP. Contracts with independent cities require the sheriff to maintain certain patrol levels, but no such contracts exist for the county’s unincorporated areas since the sheriff cannot contract with himself, Marquez explained.
Community Service Districts would give unincorporated communities, such as East Los Angeles, the power to secure law enforcement contracts in much the same way independent municipalities do, Marquez said.
Unincorporated East LA lost one patrol car for each of the three daily shifts, as did Azusa, Claremont and Pomona. Some areas were harder hit; patrols in unincorporated South and West Whittier were cut from 12 patrol cars to six, and unincorporated Basset and the Valinda Corridor went from five cars to two. In addition, in most every case, two-person patrol cars were reduced to one-person cars, according to Molina’s office.
“When you take a car out in the P.M. shift – when you take two-man cars and make them one-man cars – these are service cuts that are fairly dramatic,” Molina said in a written statement. “The Sheriff points to low crime rates as justification for why he can reduce patrol in unincorporated areas but crime rates are low precisely because we have a consistent level of patrol. His temporary solution has been to take deputies assigned to anti-gang units and put them on street patrol – which is not a solution at all. It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
The board voted last week to hire a company to do a forensic audit of the sheriff’s $2.8 billion department budget.
An angry Molina has also accused Baca of mismanaging his department, saying that over the last three years alone, the board has authorized judgments, settlements, attorney’s fees, and other legal costs totaling over $100 million due to use of force lawsuits against the sheriff’s department. Supervisors have also paid $18 million in liability costs to the contract cities trust fund, she said.
“Already, Sheriff Baca’s mismanagement of deputies is costing us millions of dollars,” Molina said. “Now we’re encountering mismanagement of patrol hours – the most basic function of law enforcement. Sheriff Baca’s excuse is that budget cuts are to blame but unincorporated patrol comprises less than 19 percent of his $2.6 billion annual budget. He continually makes good on his promises to contract cities. But he has broken his word to residents of unincorporated areas – and he’s done so for the last time. Unincorporated areas are being shortchanged by the Sheriff, and it’s got to stop.”
Another recent audit found that Baca had provided 99 percent of the patrols promised to cities and agencies that contract with his department, but only 91 percent of patrol hours promised to unincorporated neighborhoods, despite receiving funding from supervisors.
According to the audit, supervisors allocated $457.5 for sheriff’s services in unincorporated communities, but only $402.5 was accounted for, Marquez told EGP.
Supervisor Molina wants to know where the other $44 million is and why it’s not being spent in unincorporated areas as allocated, Marquez said.
Given that $44 million remains to be spent, unincorporated area patrols should not be suffering cuts, she said.
Baca has defended patrol reductions in unincorporated areas by citing a big drop in the crime rate. “We’re not out of our recession as a county,” Baca told the board last week. “We have the lowest crime rate we’ve had in 40 years.”
Sheriff’s officials also blamed deep budget cuts imposed by the board, causing the department to leave dozens of deputy positions unfilled. Adjusted for those cuts, the department was much closer to its goal, averaging 98.5 percent fulfillment of its pledged patrol hours, according to the audit, though unincorporated areas near Palmdale had a significantly lower 85.8 percent level.
Based on Molina’s recommendation, the board asked their lawyers to explore alternatives for providing services to the unincorporated areas, from private patrols to special service districts.
“We need to create accountability and I’m not so sure that the sheriff is listening to us,” Molina said.
Information from City News Service was used in this report.