Fifteen prisoners are transferred from the old jail to the new Metropolitan… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)
Elected city officials on Wednesday finalized an unusual loan to the Los Angeles Police Department that will reduce the number of police officers used to staff a new jail.
FOR THE RECORD:
An earlier subheadline on this article said the $640,000 loan would enable the LAPD to open the Metropolitan Detention Center; the facility opened Feb. 2.
Earlier this month, the LAPD enacted a controversial plan to reassign 89 officers from regular patrol work to the detention facility, where they filled staffing shortages that had forced the department to keep the jail mothballed for nearly two years.
Unhappy with the idea of taking officers off city streets, City Councilman Greig Smith came up with the idea of lending the department nearly $640,000 from a city trust fund. The money, which is lent without interest and must be paid back over two years, allows the department to suspend cost-saving furloughs of the roughly 315 detention officers working in the jail. Having the detention officers back at full strength means 27 of the 89 officers can return to the field.
The struggle to open the Metropolitan Detention Center has been a long, troublesome one for the LAPD. Intended to replace a badly dilapidated, decades-old jail that fell short of safety and health regulations, the new $84-million structure required a larger staff to operate. When construction neared completion, however, the city was mired in a fiscal crisis and had imposed a strict hiring freeze and furloughs that left the LAPD unable to open the facility's doors.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, speaking at a news conference Wednesday to announce the loan, called the decision "one of the toughest I've had to make as chief." He and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa praised Smith, who chairs the council's Public Safety Committee, for coming up with the idea. "Thanks to Greig Smith I get to feel a little bit better about that decision today," Beck said.
The loan money comes out of the Sunshine Canyon trust fund, which was created to pay for community-improvement projects around a landfill in Sylmar. Smith said the funds being lent were "surplus funds" that would not have been spent in the current fiscal year that ends June 30.
Smith added that lawyers in the city attorney's office had reviewed the loan and given their approval, saying it did not violate the terms of the city ordinance that established the trust fund because the money will be repaid and eventually used as intended.
The officials acknowledged the loan will carry the department through just to the end of the fiscal year. Without a more permanent solution, the department will find itself in the same predicament July 1.