The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will decide Tuesday whether to allocate an additional $22 million to the Sheriff’s Department to make up for an average 1-minute lower response time in the county’s unincorporated areas versus contract cities.
According to county Chief Administrator William Fujioka, the county’s got the money.
The issue of police services came to the fore a few months ago when the Los Angeles Times reported that sheriff’s deputies respond quicker to incidents in contract cities than in county areas that aren’t in a city.
Was it because the sheriff was trying harder to remain in the good graces of contract cities – such as Santa Clarita – so they’d continue to hire his department as their policing agency? That’s what The Times, and ultimately the county supervisors, wanted to know.
No, came the reply. It’s simple math.
The Sheriff’s Department provides police services for two types of areas: (1) the unincorporated (non-city) parts of the county; and (2) cities that contract with the department. Some cities, like Los Angeles and Glendale, operate their own policing agencies. Others, like Santa Clarita and Lancaster, hire the Sheriff’s Department.
Sheriff services for the unincorporated regions (including the unincorporated parts of the Santa Clarita Valley, such as Stevenson Ranch and Castaic) are paid out of the county budget. Sheriff services for contract cities are paid out of the various cities’ budgets.
Conservatively managed cities such as Santa Clarita weathered the recent economic crisis better than others, and in a city that puts public safety first, a sworn police position is the last thing that would be cut from Santa Clarita’s budget.
The giant county didn’t weather the storm nearly so well. A couple of years ago the county axed its Sheriff’s Department budget by $100 million, which translated into the elimination of 300 sworn positions.
Then in the 2011-12 budget year the county found $40.2 million in one-time money, which it used to “maintain patrol service levels in the unincorporated areas.”
The Sheriff’s Department requested the same $40.2 million for the current 2012-13 budget year but got only $18.2 million.
In August the Sheriff’s Department reported that it faced a $44 million deficit due to the loss of the $22 million it didn’t get this year, and another $22 million in “unavoidable cost increases in employee benefits.”
According to a report from Fujioka this week, the administrator said he had intended to determine whether the Sheriff’s Department really needed the money – or, as he put it, “revisit that request mid-year to determine if the need still existed.” It seems he’s been holding the $22 million in abeyance in an account called “Budget Uncertainties.”
Sheriff Baca is pretty certain he needs the money if he’s to hire enough deputies to cut that embarrassing 1-minute difference in response time, and Fujioka says he’s ready to recommend the restoration of the funding – provided Baca really uses it to cut the response time and not use any of it to solve his spiraling employee benefit problem.
Or, as Fujioka put it, “It is CEO’s recommendation that we request the Department to fully restore patrol minutes allocated to the unincorporated areas and curtail other services in the Department to address all cost increases in employee benefits.”