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For Prisoners, a Clean Cot and Jailbird's-Eye View of Mansions

December 02, 1990|KENNETH J. GARCIA and RAY RIPTON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Jack Benny used to joke that Beverly Hills was the only city in America where the Police Department had an unlisted telephone number.

Well guess which city is about to install louvers on the windows in its new high-tech jail?

It appears that the third-floor jail in the new police headquarters offers more than just a clean cot and bars for lawbreakers detained by Beverly Hills' finest. Visitors to the new facility say it affords any future prisoners views of the million-dollar mansions and well-heeled joggers across Santa Monica Boulevard.

So rather than tempt any inmates with visions of grandeur, Beverly Hills officials decided to redirect their views away from any earthly pursuits. To achieve that goal, the City Council recently awarded a $22,000 contract to a firm that will install louvers on the 22 single-cell windows that face some of the wealthiest properties in the nation.

"We noticed right away at the new jail that they could see some of the houses and had a clear view of the parkway across the street," said Beverly Hills police spokesman Lt. Frank Salcido. "There was definitely some concern in the department that you could see into some of the back yards."

How the city should redirect those views posed a sticky problem. State law requires that cells of prison inmates receive at least 3 square feet of natural light. After some review, an architectural consultant suggested that the louvers would allow adequate light in the windows and change the sight-line from the mansions to the heavens.

It is not clear what inmates think about the loss of the champagne views--the jail won't be open for several weeks while the Police Department works the bugs out of its new jail security system. People arrested and detained in Beverly Hills are currently being booked at the West Hollywood sheriff's station and later transferred to Central Jail, where the sights fall far short of those now available in the gilded enclave.

Police Capt. Russell Olson, who oversees the Beverly Hills jail, said that while the department was concerned about the third-floor views, most inmates wouldn't be around long enough to really enjoy them. Because it's a small city jail, most prisoners at the facility would be detained less than 24 hours.

"Most of the concern was internal," Olson said. "No one has come to my (department) and complained. But it was apparent that the barred windows allowed full visual access (into some of the back yards). The only question we had to deal with was whether we objected to having louvers on the jail. And we said no."

Olson said the louvers would be installed within two months, and in keeping with the city's strict architectural design code, would be painted and would blend in with the rest of the elaborate new Civic Center, where the police headquarters are located.

"The feeling was that if the incarcerated are looking out their windows at some of the homes, they might begin thinking about ripping them off when they got out," said Beverly Hills Mayor Allan L. Alexander. "That didn't seem like such a good idea."

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