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Audits Find Sheriff's Records Are Sloppy

The department may not be collecting enough in its pacts with 41 cities, which fail to specify the amount or cost of patrol services, studies show.

May 13, 2003|Sue Fox | Times Staff Writer

Sloppy record-keeping and contracting contributed to budget problems afflicting the Sheriff's Department, audits released Monday by Los Angeles County Auditor-Controller J. Tyler McCauley suggest.

The department busted its budget twice in the last five years by spending millions more than allocated. Facing a $75-million shortfall in the coming year, Sheriff Lee Baca has trimmed community-policing programs and started freeing nonviolent offenders from jail to save money.

At the behest of the Board of Supervisors, McCauley and an outside contractor scoured the department's budget and found room for much improvement, particularly with respect to the 41 cities that hire sheriff's deputies to patrol their communities.

McCauley found that the department does not keep accurate records of the hours worked or level of service provided, indicating that the county may not be collecting enough money from the contract cities.

"The sheriff needs ... to ensure the department is maximizing its revenues and not subsidizing contract cities for law enforcement services," McCauley wrote. "Any such subsidies put additional pressure on the department's budget."

Contracts with cities such as Carson, Lynwood and Santa Clarita generate about $170 million annually, more than 10% of the department's budget.

But McCauley found that the contracts fail to specify the amount of patrol service to be provided or how much the cities will pay. If a city requests midyear changes, no adjustments are made to the contract.

The department dismissed McCauley's advice that it bill contract cities based upon "actual services" provided rather than whatever vague "service level" was agreed to.

"To bill based upon actual services provided would be unwieldy and lead to budgetary unpredictability," Assistant Sheriff R. Doyle Campbell told McCauley in a reply memo. "For instance, if the Sheriff's Department underserved the contract cities by only 1% and was required to make reimbursement, the county would experience an estimated loss of $1.7 million."

Campbell could not be reached for comment Monday.

In a related audit by TCBA and Altmayer Consulting Inc., accountants found that the sheriff's budget did not accurately forecast expenditures, nor was it amended throughout the year to reflect the amount being spent.

The audits come as the Board of Supervisors prepares to open hearings on its proposed 2003-04 budget, a spending plan that slashes services across the board to mend an $800-million hole.

The public hearings will begin Wednesday.

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