L.A. County sheriff's Deputies Oscar Barragan and Ron Navarrete… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to implement a new tracking system for Sheriff’s Department patrols in unincorporated areas and also gave $22 million to the department in hopes of improving service in those communities.
Under the new system, money spent on patrols in unincorporated areas will be tracked separately from that spent on patrols in the 42 cities that contract for Sheriff’s Department services.
Earlier this year, Supervisor Gloria Molina accused Sheriff Lee Baca of "stealing" police resources from residents in unincorporated neighborhoods.
A county audit found that it took sheriff's deputies a minute longer to respond to emergency calls from unincorporated parts of the county than from cities that contract with the department for police services. The audit also found that Baca provided 91% of promised patrol hours to unincorporated areas, compared with 99% for cities and agencies that buy his services.
Sheriff's officials blamed the difference on deep budget cuts imposed by the board.
Baca and his predecessors have long wrangled with supervisors over funding and patrol resources.
Although the board sets the sheriff's budget, Baca, an elected official, has wide discretion on how to spend it. The Sheriff's Department polices about three-fourths of the county. The patrol obligations for cities are set in contracts with the department, so county budget cuts are more likely to affect unincorporated areas.
The additional $22 million the supervisors approved was intended to help restore patrol services in the unincorporated areas that were cut because of budget cuts and “unavoidable cost increases” in employee benefits.
Molina voted against the allocation. She said after the meeting that the money would go into the general sheriff’s budget, with no guarantee the funds would be spent on unincorporated patrols.
“It plugs other holes but it doesn’t plug the unincorporated patrol,” she said. “If it did cover unincorporated patrol, I would support it… [Baca] didn’t run out of money in the patrol area, he just decided to cut it out because he had other holes to plug.”
She said the new tracking system, which will be implemented in the coming fiscal year’s budget, will improve accountability.
“From now on, it’s pay as you go in the unincorporated patrol, so if he doesn’t provide the service, he won’t get paid for it, which I think is a very good thing," she said.
County spokesman Dave Sommers said the supervisors made clear that the additional $22 million was to be used for patrols in the unincorporated areas.
"The board letter clearly states where the money is expected to be used, and it's for that purpose only," he said. "The chief executive office expects that this money will be used for the intended use of maintaining service levels in the unincorporated areas."
Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said the department welcomed the additional funding, and rejected Molina’s concern that the money would be used outside of unincorporated patrols.
“We respect her concern but we want to put it to rest,” he said. “The intent and the goal is to do exactly what the board wants.”
Whitmore said it was too early to comment on the proposal to change the way the department’s budget is structured.
“Whatever they want we’re certainly going to do our best to comply with it,” he said.
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