Facing a shortage of civilian jail guards, the Los Angeles Police Department plans to close jails at its Southeast and West Valley divisions to allow sworn officers more time on patrol.
Police in the Southeast Division anticipate few problems, but community members are worried. Officers will have to take prisoners to the 77th Division station two miles away.
"I'm not happy about it," said Alice Henderson, co-chairwoman of the Southeast Division's police advisory board. "I think it is going to take longer to book prisoners."
The Southeast Division covers 150,000 residents. Last year, the citywide homicide rate surged 27.6%, with 80 killings in Southeast, the largest number among the LAPD's divisions.
Henderson said the division, like many in the city, has been hit by the reshuffling announced in November. The movement of employees is intended by LAPD Chief Bernard C. Parks to better combat the crime surge, sending some officers from specialized details to patrol.
In the sprawling San Fernando Valley, closing the West Valley jail in Reseda will require officers to take suspects to the Van Nuys jail, about seven miles away, or to the Devonshire jail, about five miles away.
The jails, which can handle about 40 to 50 inmates each, are used to hold suspects--usually no longer than 72 hours--until their court arraignments. Sworn officers must fill in when civilian jail guards are absent or short-handed. Under the proposal, about two dozen civilian jail workers would be reassigned, freeing officers at Southeast and West Valley for other duties.
Joe Bonino, the commanding officer of the LAPD's jail division, said a number of other police stations in Los Angeles do not have holding cells.
"Hollenbeck, Northeast, Rampart and Central all book at Parker Center--none of them have jails of their own," he said. "What we're really trying to be is prudent and be good managers. I think that's in the long-term best interests of the city."
LAPD recruiting problems are at the heart of the issue, police officials say. The jail division, like the LAPD in general, has had a hard time competing for employees in a strong economy.
The LAPD is having trouble recruiting civilian detention officers who can pass the department's background check. Annual salary for an LAPD detention officer ranges from about $32,000 to $41,000, said Julie Butcher, general manager of the detention officers union, SEIU Local 347.
Recruitment troubles and injuries have caused about 60 vacancies on the jail division's 335-person civilian force, Bonino said.
At some jails, he said, sworn officers must perform civilian guard duties. In some cases, a single detention officer is on guard, a risky proposition, Bonino said.
"It's better to have backup," he said. "If you're opening a cell all by yourself, I don't think anyone would agree that's a good plan."
The proposal to close the jails was included in this year's city budget, Bonino said, but it wasn't until Thursday that the LAPD began negotiating the terms with representatives of detention officers unions, SEIU Locals 347 and 777. Negotiations will continue on Feb. 2.
If the two sides reach an agreement, the proposal will go to the Los Angeles City Council's Public Safety Committee, and then the full council for final approval.
Although the proposal does not call for layoffs, union leaders are skeptical. Butcher said the decision "doesn't make operational sense."
"It makes more sense to figure out how to fill the vacancies."