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Sheriff Releases 1,200 Nonviolent Offenders

Budget: Baca, in financial battle with supervisors, will also close some programs.

June 21, 2002|RICHARD WINTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sheriff Lee Baca has released more than 1,200 inmates convicted of nonviolent misdemeanors since last week as he seeks to close a budget gap of as much as $100 million, department officials said Thursday.

Assistant Sheriff Dennis Dahlman said the releases that began June 13 are part of an effort to reduce a chronic budget shortfall.

The releases come as a budget battle between Baca and the county supervisors intensifies.

Under the new policy, inmates convicted of nonviolent misdemeanors who have served 70% of their jail sentences have been released, said Cmdr. Chuck Jackson, who oversees the jail.

Inmates often are released early for good behavior. But, Jackson said, "This is earlier than they earn with good time, work time." As of midnight Wednesday, 1,215 had been released, he said.

The Sheriff's Department on Thursday issued directives to commanders and deputies that Baca's budget, effective July 1, would preserve most core crime-fighting units but close the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood, eliminate the Asian Crime Task Force and require the release of inmates with bail of less than $25,000 who are not charged with felonies or violent misdemeanors.

Those releases will be especially important if the 2,000-bed Century Regional jail closes July 1, as Baca on Thursday reiterated that it would.

Its inmates are to be transferred, filling spaces of inmates released early. About 184 deputies there were informed late Wednesday that they would be reassigned, with only a skeleton crew left for bookings and maintenance, Dahlman said.

Spared the ax by Baca are the Safe Streets Bureau, the Emergency Services Detail, the Mental Health Evaluation team and the Family Crimes Bureau, which is handling dozens of cases involving allegations of sexual misconduct by priests.

Also preserved was the controversial use of a $2.4 million airplane by the department.

Baca's plans come as county supervisors prepared to decide how much is needed to run a department that has nearly 15,000 employees and jails with 20,000 inmates, and which polices 41 cities and unincorporated areas of the county. Supervisors will vote on the Sheriff's Department budget next week.

The sheriff slated several programs for closing in two to four weeks.

Among them is the COPS Bureau, a community policing program whose 175 deputies are to be reassigned to fill positions currently staffed using overtime.

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