Although no public comments have been made, the city of Vernon is no longer considering outsourcing its police department to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, now that voters have approved tax increases to help fund public safety costs, assuring city officials that Vernon residents want to retain their local police agency.
A preliminary report from the Sheriff’s Department, estimated that the city would save nearly $4 million a year by closing its department and contracting with the county. According to city officials, given the influx of new revenue, the estimated savings were not “substantial enough” for the city that prides itself for having one of the lowest police response times in Los Angeles County.
“There’s no question that this city wants to have their own police department,” Vernon’s Independent Reform Monitor John Van De Kamp told EGP. “For the time being, the Sheriff’s proposal is off the table.”
It is estimated that the three tax measures approved earlier this month will bring in $8 million for the city’s General Fund over the next 10 years, which will help pay for police and fire services.
Vernon spokesman Fred MacFarlane said it’s unlikely the city will continue to consider contracting with the Sheriff’s department.
Vernon began to consider outsourcing its police department in mid 2012 at the urging of Van De Kamp and business owners who saw the option as a way to close the $12 million budget deficit the city faced that year.
City Administrator Mark Whitworth requested information from the Sheriff’s department around July 2012, and the county came back a preliminary price tag of $6,763,472, which was presented to the council. The County also told Vernon officials that they needed $60,000 to conduct a more exhaustive study to determine a more accurate cost for their services.
MacFarlane said this preliminary $6 million figure concerned the city, which worried it was a “teaser rate” that would increase over the years, and eventually become unaffordable.
“The Sheriff’s Department couldn’t make those iron-clad guarantees” about the costs he said.
In an August 2012 report, Vernon Police Chief Daniel Calleros told the council that while the city-run police department costs are higher, $10,323,915 a year, switching to the county would result in a reduction in services, including longer response times.
Council members decided to hold off on any decision until they received the results of a study being conducted by a consulting firm hired by the city to help compare the two policing options.
The council did not receive the report — which found that Vernon could not be compared to any other California city due to its unique industrial makeup — until January of this year, the same month the council approved placing the three tax measures on the April 9 ballot.
The issue of changing “died due to lack of action by the council,” MacFarlane said.
“There was a conscious decision by the board and myself to stay with the current, independent Vernon police department,” Vernon’s city administrator told EGP. “If we need to further visit the issue or if there is any concerns from the public or the businesses that we haven’t thoroughly vetted the issue, I will agendize it.”
Van De Kamp, however, told EGP that he recommended to the council that it publicly address what appears to be its informal decision to not pursue a contract with the county. He expects they will do at a future council meeting.
The city’s police department has already taken some steps to cut its budget, such as reducing personnel; they also expect some retirements by the end of the fiscal year. Vernon police are also looking at the possibility of contracting out its serviced to neighboring cities like Maywood.
Chief Calleros said cities like Maywood, which closed its police department and now contract with the county, are seeing a reduction in services because the Sheriff’s Dept. often “overextends its services.” Growing up in East Los Angeles, Calleros said he saw first-hand the services the Sheriff’s department provided.
“As police chief here in Vernon, I know the level of service the County provides and I do not recommend it for Vernon,” he said.
The city is only home to around 100 residents, which means most of the interactions the police department has are with businesses, Vernon Detective Jeremy Cross told EGP. Calls to the police department are typically for burglaries and thefts of business-related materials, including copper, diesel fuel and pallets.
Since the city is home to many companies that use flammable chemicals that are not found in your average city, Vernon police are trained to handle specialized calls including terrorist threats and hazardous situations. The department also has detectives assigned to specialized task forces that bring in money to the department through asset forfeiture funds. The county would not provide staffing for those critical specialized units or the number of officers required to maintain low response times, according to the chief.
“The business community relies on the police department,” McFarland said. “A response time of four to five minutes is a real reassurance if you’re a business owner.”
Chief Calleros said he is pleased that the city’s residents approved the three tax measures. Voters made it clear that they, and the business community, want to maintain their local police department, he said.
“Vernon PD is the best choice and the right choice for Vernon, not the County.”