Flickr photo by Oran Viriyincy
During normal times, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department hears from two to three small towns a year wondering how much taxpayer money they’d save by hiring deputies to replace their own police officers.
These are not normal times.
LASD’s Contract Law Enforcement Bureau has received such inquires from seven of the county’s cities this past year, said Lt. Rick Mouwen. “The interest has pretty much doubled.”
A growing number of California’s towns and cities are contemplating the elimination of one of their primary expenses: municipal police departments.
In the Bay Area, San Carlos is looking to shed its own force in favor of smaller bills for police services from either the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office or next-door Redwood City’s department. The Pomona Police Department is the most recent in Southern California to publicly discuss outsourcing the protection of residents’ safety.
Officials in some cities have run out of other services to cut, as California’s tax-revenue drought has continued to open multimillion-dollar shortfalls in their budgets.
In the case of cities like San Carlos, the police department already has a smaller version of its former self. In a report to city officials, outside consultants from Commonwealth International Inc. forecast further troubles if they continued with its independent police department.
The reductions in staff to the San Carlos Police Department over the last few years are reducing the police department to a 'calls for service' agency. The department is approaching minimum staffing for the maintenance of community and officer safety. Dispatch has already been outsourced. Frustration in the department with the inability to provide important services will grow. Opportunities for the staff to acquire additional training and experience will become nonexistent.
These scenarios bring growing pains for the sheriff’s offices and myriad discomforts for the municipalities.
Earlier this month in two of cities southeast of Los Angeles – Maywood and Cudahy – the county sheriff’s department had to frantically shift resources to pick up police services, as the city governments essentially shuttered and shed all law enforcement personnel.
LASD routinely does an extensive evaluation before such a transition, evaluating what officers and equipment to merge into its own force, Mouwen said.
In Maywood, the closure came so suddenly there wasn’t time for such a process.
The sheriff’s department is still weighing which members of Maywood’s force can become deputies. Mouwen said the sheriff’s office assesses a city’s officers one-by-one, “just like we look at the cars and whether we would assume (ownership of) those vehicles.”
Moves to eliminate a police department aren’t made easily. Residents in Pomona have mobilized politically to keep the city’s force as it is, putting up yard signs and Facebook pages.