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Closing of Jail Delayed 3 Weeks

LAPD: Chief agrees to allow time for west San Fernando Valley residents to comment. Foes fear result will be fewer officers on patrol.

April 04, 2002|PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In response to an emergency request by the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday, Police Chief Bernard C. Parks agreed to delay Friday's closure of the west San Fernando Valley jail for three weeks.

Councilman Dennis Zine, a former police union official who has frequently butted heads with the chief, said it was unfair to close the jail in his district without giving residents a chance to comment.

The council approved an emergency motion seeking a delay so public hearings can be held, and Parks late Wednesday agreed.

Zine said the input from residents was important, especially "after we convinced the people in the Valley to vote for Proposition Q," a $600-million police bond measure on the March 5 ballot that will pay for a new West Valley police station.

Although a jail is not planned for the replacement station, Zine said, the public should be able to comment on whether it should be.

"I don't want to deceive the people of Los Angeles. They have been deceived many times on bond measures," Zine said.

The closure was planned because of a lack of detention officers, said Jason Lee, a spokesman for Parks, who is seeking reappointment to a second term. LAPD officers should not be taken off the streets to replace those detention officers, Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski said.

"Right now, police officers are off the street manning the jails," she said.

The closure originally was proposed five years ago as part of a jail consolidation plan, and the current budget is counting on the closure, Miscikowski said.

"This is an operational matter, consistent with budget approvals, and is something the chief of police has discretion to choose or not choose," she said.

Zine said, however, that a sufficient number of detention officer candidates are waiting to be hired but that city background checkers have not moved quickly enough to fill the vacancies.

Councilwoman Janice Hahn said that closing the jail without seeking public comment is not consistent with the department's move toward community-based policing.

"Our communities get upset when decisions are made and they find out after the fact and they don't have a chance to provide input," she said.

About 3,000 people are booked each year at the West Valley jail. Its closure will take officers off the street to drive detainees to the Van Nuys or Devonshire jails, Zine said. With the police force already far below its peak staffing level, the West Valley cannot afford the loss of officer time to transport people out of the area, he said.

The West Valley Division is supposed to have 10 patrol cars per watch but usually has six or seven, Zine said, adding that the number of sworn officers at the station has declined from 346 in 1997 to 321 now.

The timing of the closure also might help boost the Valley secession movement, Zine said.

"We don't need to feed into the attitude that we don't care about the San Fernando Valley," he said.

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