Sheriff’s Department officials are planning to beef up patrols throughout Los Angeles County after an audit showed a one-minute discrepancy in deputy-response time between unincorporated areas and contract cities.
Locally, the large coverage area somewhat skews the accuracy of response-time comparisons, said Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station Capt. Paul Becker, but he noted larger, less-densely populated areas such as Acton and Agua Dulce would still have increased patrols available.
While recent county budget cutbacks have made necessary overtime for more patrols unavailable, the station is diverting resources from statistical analysis in order to better target incident response, Becker said.
“I have to hit a compliance level within those city (limits) to fulfill the contract,” he said. “They hit a set amount, we bill them every month and we fulfill those contracts. So, obviously, when there’s a discrepancy, it’s going to fall on the unincorporated areas.”
Santa Clarita is a city that contracts service with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, while the unincorporated parts of the Santa Clarita Valley that are also served by the Sheriff’s Station including Acton, Agua Dulce, Castaic, Stevenson Ranch, Tesoro Del Valle, Val Verde and Westridge.
It will mean two fewer deputies are available for crime-prevention analysis in the unincorporated “crime zones” in order to deal with a countywide mandate, he said.
Law enforcement in the Santa Clarita Valley is divided into seven zones, each with a deputy assigned to monitor crime reports – which are released weekly to the public via a service called Nixle – and to shift resources accordingly.
There are two zones in unincorporated areas, Stevenson Ranch/Westridge and Castaic/Val Verde, which will not have this monitoring, and instead, see increased patrols.
Becker also noted that areas like Stevenson Ranch and West Ranch don’t typically see the delay associated with being an unincorporated area, but road access to certain parts of the SCV like Acton that are very rural present practical obstacles to response time.
“The statistics that we have showed a longer response time in unincorporated areas versus contract cities,” said Jim Schneiderman, assistant auditor/controller for Los Angeles County. “And the sheriff has indicated that that’s due to things like the size of the patrol areas, road access and population density. We did look at the amount of money spent on unincorporated areas, and we looked at the number of service hours that are provided.”
A county representative for the Sheriff’s Department downplayed the discrepancy, but also noted that it was one that Sheriff Lee Baca was asking all stations to address.
“There’s a lot of areas that just takes this much longer to get there. It’s only a minute longer than the city,” said Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore.
“(Baca) is aware of that frustration and he shares that frustration,” he said.
Sheriff’s Department officials organized an immediate response to the report, which included re-assigning 22 units from the gang enforcement team.
“(Baca) is in the process of identifying 90 more (deputies) that he would like to re-assign, as well,” he said.
Whitmore also said budgetary cutbacks played a role in the patrol discrepancy.
Countywide, the Los Angeles County Office of Auditor/Controller noted that the Sheriff’s Department budgeted $447 million for patrols, whereas the actual operating costs estimated by the controller’s report was $402 million.
[Click here] to read the auditor’s report.
Supervisor Gloria Molina Calls Unincorporated Areas “Shortchanged”
[Supv. Molina] – Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina announced Tuesday that the Board of Supervisors had “no other choice” but to give unincorporated residents the power to secure law enforcement service levels the way independent municipalities do. Today’s directive by the Board of Supervisors – potentially allowing unincorporated areas to establish Community Service Districts – comes on the heels of a critical audit by the county’s Auditor-Controller which found that the Sheriff’s response to emergency calls in unincorporated areas was 17 percent longer than in contract cities. Just last week, the Board of Supervisors learned that on Jan.13, station captains were ordered not to use overtime dollars – effectively cutting patrol services for unincorporated neighborhoods. Consequently, unincorporated South and West Whittier patrols cars went from 12 to six; unincorporated Basset and the Valinda Corridor went from five cars to two; unincorporated East Los Angeles lost a patrol car in each shift, as did unincorporated Azusa, Claremont, as well as Pomona; and, in most every case, two-person patrol cars were reduced to one-person cars.
“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. “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.”
Molina also noted that, over the last three years, the Board of Supervisors 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. In addition, the supervisors paid $18 million in liability costs to the contract cities trust fund.
“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.”