After being forced to leave it empty for almost two years because of staffing shortages, the Los Angeles Police Department opened its new central jail Wednesday.
The 172,000-square-foot downtown facility, which carried a final price tag of $84 million, was essentially completed in May 2009. The LAPD kept it mothballed, however, because it required a significantly larger staff to operate than the smaller jail it is replacing. A citywide hiring freeze, imposed as the city plummeted further into its fiscal crisis, prevented the department from hiring the additional detention officers it needed.
In October, after unsuccessful attempts to win a hiring exception from city officials, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck decided he could wait no longer to close down the dilapidated, decades-old structure attached to Parker Center, the former LAPD headquarters. Beck announced a controversial plan to open the new Metropolitan Detention Center by taking about 90 police officers off patrol assignments to help run the new facility.
Since then, the department has been training the first crop of officers, who are expected to remain at the jail for about six months, after which another group will cycle in.
Traditionally, the several jails the LAPD operates to detain arrestees while they wait to be arraigned in court have been run by civilian detention officers. The decision to use police officers in the jails led to criticism that the officers' extensive training was being wasted and that the city could not afford to take them off of city streets.
Beck defended the move at a meeting Wednesday with The Times' editorial board and reporters, saying that although it was not ideal, the old Parker Center jail had to be shuttered.
"That facility is hideous," he said. "That we put arrestees, let alone our own people in there is terrible."
The department also closed four of its smaller jails to free up enough detention officers to fully staff the metropolitan center.
The mid-week opening was timed to avoid the swell of arrests that typically occur over weekends. With only a few dozen men currently in custody in the Parker Center jail, the transfer into the new facility, at Temple and Los Angeles streets, went smoothly, said Assistant Chief Michel Moore.