sheriff villanueva denounces budget cuts, outlines services to be affected
During a press conference held Monday morning, June 29, 2020, at the Hall of Justice, Sheriff Alex Villanueva discussed a large budget cut proposed by Los Angeles County CEO Sachi Hamai for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) 2020-2021 fiscal year, which was voted on and approved later that day by the Board of Supervisors. On the cusp of reopening after the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an all-around tightening of belts because of tax revenue losses incurred from the closure of businesses. All 34 Los Angeles County government departments will have their budgets reduced, however, it is LASD which will take the largest cut.
With around 18,000 employees, LASD staffs 15% of the entire county family. Sheriff Villanueva pointed out the unbalanced distribution of cuts to be imposed on our agency: Of the 600 proposed county layoffs, more than half of them will be from the Sheriff’s Department, and of the 3,200 vacant positions to be eliminated county-wide, 1,525 will be from the Sheriff’s Department. The Sheriff, however, cited there are other, steadier sources of money for government than sales tax, such as property tax, which could be directed toward law enforcement and the other 33 county departments, but for a variety of reasons, is not. “The Board has the ability to fund all of the county government operations, and they need to prioritize public safety,” said Sheriff Villanueva.
With the Board of Supervisors voting in favor of the defunding proposal and following CEO Hamai’s recommendations, four important investigative bureaus within LASD will be eliminated: Special Victims Bureau, which investigates crimes against some of the most vulnerable of our population, children and victims of sexual assault, who are victims of atrocities like physical abuse, sexual abuse and rape; Operation Safe Streets, which investigates gang-related crimes, collects gang intelligence and maintains current information on local street gangs; Fraud and Cyber Crimes Bureau, which investigates crimes committed online and various forms of fraud, including identity theft, real estate fraud and wire fraud; and Major Crimes Bureau, which specializes in investigating kidnapping for ransom, illegal medical practices, extortion, solicitation for murder, series and pattern robberies, etc. Scrapping these specialized bureaus will cause investigations to be decentralized and conducted at a station-level by detectives whose caseloads are already heavily burdened.
“It’s unconscionable,” said Sheriff Villanueva. “These are the major detective units of the entire department. They serve the entire county of Los Angeles. Those four units…are the cream of the crop of investigative units throughout the entire nation, and as the largest county in the nation, I cannot see how we move forward without these four units,” he said.
At the discretion of the CEO and Board of Supervisors, the four detective bureaus will be eliminated, as well as the Mental Evaluation Team, comprised of soft-clothed deputies and mental health clinicians, who respond in teams of two to calls in the field, to conduct mental health evaluations. They also provide follow up and support services, respond to incidents such as suicides, school shootings, incidents with barricaded persons, and locate persons with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and autism who wandered away.
Custody Operations will also be impacted with $50 million already dedicated to fulfill unfunded mandates. The Department is legally obligated to provide a certain level of programming to our inmate population, and the positions to be eliminated because of budget issues will cause incompliance with federal consent decrees.
One might argue that if a position is vacant, it wasn’t needed anyway, and won’t be missed if eliminated. On the contrary, vacant positions across our agency are compulsory and, because of already-existing staff shortages, are filled by paying them as overtime spots, which only compounds budget issues. Cutting the 2020-2021 budget by $555 million affects the services we provide and takes away vital law enforcement services from everyone.