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Sheriff Offers Long Beach a Savings Plan : Law enforcement: Report claims it could save city millions and add officers by replacing its department.

January 31, 1992|ROXANA KOPETMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The city of Long Beach would save $29 million annually and enjoy an increase in its number of patrol officers if it abolished its own Police Department and hired the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department to do the job, according to a sheriff's report released Thursday.

In its proposal to the city, the Sheriff's Department claims it could put 79 more officers on the street, add 14 detectives, exchange the department's headquarters for three police stations during the next five years and expand "community-oriented policing."

With fewer administrators and different staffing policies, the Sheriff's Department proposes to offer Long Beach 732 sworn personnel for $62 million. By comparison, it cost the city $91 million during the 1990-91 fiscal year to maintain a force of 691 police officers and the 56 sheriff's deputies responsible for law enforcement in parts of the city.

The Sheriff's Department also proposes to split its patrol force into nine teams, mirroring the city's nine council districts. And by deploying one-person cars, the Sheriff's Department said it would place 76 more patrol cruisers in the field every day.

The 82-page proposal, delivered to the homes of City Council members Thursday evening, is scheduled for discussion at the council's meeting on Tuesday when a passionate debate is expected.

"The numbers are awesome," said Councilman Les Robbins, a sheriff's deputy who wants to see his department patrolling Long Beach. "It's a hell of a lot more service, and a heck of a lot less money."

But others are wary of the proposal, saying they fear losing local control over the city's law enforcement.

"Right now, we have better accessibility to the person in charge of the Police Department, and we have more of a say of what goes on," said Councilman Clarence Smith, who supports maintaining the local department. "The citizens have more of a say."

Police Officers Assn. President Paul Chastain also criticized the report as incomplete, saying that "when everything is said and done, the savings are not going to be anywhere near (the promised $29 million)."

The sheriff's report cited a $13-million onetime changeover cost. It also added that its financial projections do not include the costs of such items as capital improvement projects or pending lawsuits against the Long Beach Police Department.

If Long Beach abolishes its 84-year-old department in favor of contracting with the Sheriff's Department, it would become that agency's largest client. By trading in its officers' dark blue uniforms for deputies' khaki and olive-drab garb, Long Beach would also become California's largest city without its own police department.

Deputies began patrolling the north and northeastern parts of town Nov. 1, 1990, as part of a City Hall plan to bolster the understaffed Long Beach Police Department and lower crime.

But the four-year contract with the Sheriff's Department immediately drew fire from several minority and watchdog organizations, which complained that the Citizen Police Complaint Commission can review complaints of brutality and misconduct against Long Beach officers, but not those filed against deputies working within the city's boundaries.

Groups such as the police union, the respected Long Beach Area Citizens Involved watchdog organization and the local branch of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People are expected to fight the sheriff's proposed takeover of law enforcement in Long Beach.

But the Sheriff's Department has already garnered its share of supporters, especially in the parts of town now patrolled by 43 deputies and 13 other department personnel. Residents there have said they are pleased with deputies' response time to calls and the decrease in crime.

Figures released Thursday show that deputy-patrolled areas had a 15.8% drop in crime last year, compared to a 3% increase in the police-patrolled sections of town, said Sheriff's Sgt. Harry Bovie. In the Part I crime category, which includes murders, rapes and assaults, the Sheriff's Department reported a 15% reduction while Long Beach police reported a 1.2% increase for the same 12-month period, Bovie said.

Skyrocketing crime has been one of the many problems facing the Long Beach Police Department in recent years. Earlier this month, City Manager James Hankla fired Long Beach Police Chief Lawrence L. Binkley after complaints from police commanders that Binkley practiced a vindictive management style, among other things.

Times staff writer Bettina Boxall contributed to this report.

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