City officials acknowledge that the county must take drunks into the jail but must cut the jail population, too.
Public drunkenness, prostitution, drug use and other misdemeanor crimes have not been jailable offenses in Orange County for more than two months--a fact that Santa Ana officials hope can be straightened out during a meeting with county officials on Thursday.
City Manager Robert C. Bobb said Monday that the meeting--to include officials of Santa Ana, Garden Grove and Anaheim, the county Sheriff's Department and the district attorney's office--will also explore a plan to combat prostitution along Harbor Boulevard this summer.
The boulevard, which is the major thoroughfare for prostitution activity in Orange County, runs through those three cities.
Two months ago, Sheriff Brad Gates, faced with a federal mandate to reduce the prisoner population at the County Jail, ordered that all persons arrested for drunkenness and other misdemeanor offenses--except drunk driving--be reviewed and then released rather than locked up pending arraignment.
But Santa Ana and several other Orange County cities protested, saying that the misdemeanor arrests turned away by the county would inundate their smaller jail facilities. They also expressed concern that cities may be faced with liability in a case where a misdemeanor offender is released and then is injured or commits a crime.
After it was reported that the city was considering a "friendly" lawsuit to try to force Gates' order to be rescinded, county Supervisor Roger R. Stanton wrote a letter to Santa Ana Mayor Dan Griset on the "inadvisability" of that action.
The letter referred to county efforts to locate a suitable site for a new jail and noted that two potential sites are located in Santa Ana, although an Anaheim site has been selected as the most likely.
"When you consider this issue during the next month, I hope that you all continue to be mindful that there are those who continue to seek justification for constructing a new county jail in Santa Ana," Stanton wrote. "I will continue to oppose any further expansion of the current main jail and the construction of a new jail in Santa Ana. However, I would hope that forces that are not sympathetic to Santa Ana do not get credence for their position from statements or tentative actions such as those that were reported in the press today."
The implication of the letter, said Vice Mayor P. Lee Johnson, is that the city had better "walk carefully because of where we're trying to locate that jail."
At Monday's City Council meeting, Bobb stressed that "no policy decision has been made by the city administration at all." He noted that a review of the situation by the Police Department had produced four potential solutions.
The first would be to file a lawsuit against the sheriff and the county, citing their requirement under state law to jail persons arrested for certain misdemeanor crimes.
"The purpose of this action would be to leverage the Board of Supervisors and to require them to meet their statutory obligations by furnishing the sheriff the necessary funding and facilities," according to a memo to Bobb from Deputy Police Chief Eugene Hansen.
Other options include city funding for a "detoxification and/or a sobering-up station" or approving a contract with a private firm to provide such services.
A final solution would be to handle the problem in the present manner. That includes attempts to find a friend or relative to take care of an intoxicated person, transporting the inebriate to a mission or similar facility, or simply removing people from the street after paramedics determine that they are not in immediate danger.
City officials acknowledged Gates' dilemma: He is required by state law to accept those cases but also ordered by a federal judge to reduce the jail population.
However, Santa Ana Police Chief Raymond C. Davis noted that the city could be liable for the actions of people who are arrested and then released. For example, he said, a husband may be arrested after beating his wife, taken to jail and then released and return to administer a second beating.
"We can't just step back from the responsibility to arrest criminals in our city," Griset said.