The budget cuts announced by county CEO Sachi Hamai are targeted specifically to hurt public safety in Los Angeles County, while sparing virtually every other function of county government from any reductions. The CEO’s recommended budget for the LASD from May was $3.5 billion, a shortfall of $400 million from the true cost of running the largest sheriff’s department in the nation. As we have been busy reorganizing around the first massive reduction, the Board of Supervisors are now set to force the community to suffer a major loss of law enforcement resources with a second round of cuts to the tune of $145.4 million. This is literally balancing the entire county budget on the back of the LASD.
Half of the LASD’s budget is offset by revenue from contracts that provide law enforcement services to 42 contract cities, the Los Angeles Superior Court system, the Los Angeles Community College District, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, and other contracts. The other half is what is known as “Net County Cost” or NCC, and that is the cost of providing patrol to the 131 unincorporated communities throughout the county, running the nation’s largest jail system, and the specialized detective units who serve the entire county such as Homicide Bureau, Special Victim’s Bureau, Major Crimes Bureau, Safe Streets Bureau, and Fraud and Cyber Crimes Bureau.
The CEO’s proposed budget recommends the following LASD units be eliminated:
• Safe Streets Bureau (Gang Enforcement) • Parks Bureau • Special Victims Bureau (Sexual/Physical Abuse of Children, Rape, Human Trafficking) • Community Partnership Bureau (COPS Team) • Fraud & Cybercrimes Bureau • Major Crimes Bureau
The CEO also recommends drastically reducing the following units:
• Custody Operations (various units) • Mental Health Evaluation Teams (MET)
The CEO and the Board have embraced the “Defund the Police” movement and are cynically hiding behind accounting maneuvers, knowing well that loss of revenue in sales tax can be made up by equitably distributing more stable revenue streams like property taxes. This is not acceptable and a willful abandonment of one of the top priorities of all local government: keeping people safe.
These cuts come at a time when jails were de-populated of over five thousand inmates in order to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that restrictions are lifting, violent crimes, such as murder, are on the rise across the County and other metropolitan areas such as New York City and Chicago. Now is not the time to cut vital law enforcement services, that should be the last thing cut. Curiously, the bloated county bureaucracy remains virtually intact, which should always be the first to suffer reductions. The priorities of the Board of Supervisors are not the priorities of the good people of Los Angeles County.
Sheriff Villanueva Addresses Board of Supervisors’ Proposed Budget Cut, Its Effect on Operations Now and Through the Year 2023
How ironic it is that the nation’s biggest sheriff’s department is largely understaffed and underfunded. With an obligation to provide law enforcement services to one of the top ten largest populations across the United States, ensuring there is an adequate amount of funds to keep it operating smoothly and efficiently throughout natural, manmade and circumstantial events is quite a task.
In early May, 2020, the Board of Supervisors recommended a budget of $3.5 billion for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department 2020-2021 fiscal year, a staggering $400 million short of the $3.9 billion budget needed to run it. This shortage affects the most valuable asset we have: Staff. With an already-existing vacancy of 712 positions, a budget reduction would limit the new backfill of recruits to be trained and shrink our agency significantly, with a projected number of more than 1,300 sworn vacancies in fiscal year 2022-2023 and an escalated amount of overtime to cover those positions.
Still, cuts must be made. Sheriff Villanueva proposed to reduce the number of academy classes from 12 to eight per year, which would provide a yearly cost savings of almost $22 million. With the average attrition rate of 421 sworn personnel per year, that would shrink our organization by 160 sworn personnel per year. These are devastating numbers, but less so than the Board of Supervisors’ desire to slash the number of academy classes from 12 to four per year, allowing the hire of only 175 deputies. That number, subtracted from the 421 average attrition rate, would shrink our organization by upward of 250 deputies per year and leave our agency in a dangerous lurch.
Not having funds to cycle sufficient new bodies through academy classes will eventually bring movement to a grinding halt: New bodies won’t be enough to fill custody positions, which would otherwise push custody deputies out into vacant patrol assignments, which would clog up the promotion process of filling mandatory supervisorial positions.
“The Sheriff’s Department is forced to run in the red because the Board of Supervisors does not prioritize public safety and they are the ones that hold the checkbook,” said Sheriff Villanueva during a virtual press conference given Wednesday, May 13, 2020, at the Sherman Block Building in Monterey Park.
Shorting the budget would actually create a larger deficit and proves that funding academy classes would save money over time. Drafting, or ordering, personnel to remain for a second shift to fill a staffing vacancy costs 50% more because of the overtime factor. As an example of the inflated cost to fill voids: One lieutenant vacancy costs $172,500 in overtime per year, one sergeant vacancy costs $145,200 in overtime per year, and one deputy vacancy costs $120,600 per year. By not providing budget monies up front, it will cost Los Angeles County taxpayers more in the end.
Fatigue is another factor. Patrol and custody staff forced to work overtime and cover mandatory staffing minimums with no relief in sight suffer added stress, and physical and emotional fatigue. We must remember everything boils down to our best and most important asset, and see them as a whole person with limits, not as a robot. “It is not fair to as them [deputies] to work large amounts of overtime to continuously supplement our vacancy shortages,” said Supervisor Kathryn Barger in April, 2018.
To compensate for the shortage, Sheriff Alex Villanueva looked at a variety of measures other than cutting academy classes, to ensure the basics were covered. These included cutting unfunded programs and integrating those personnel into line positions, closing two patrol stations, eliminating two bureaus, and curtailing detective positions.
Although under threat of a misdemeanor charge by the Board of Supervisors if he does not come under budget, the Sheriff articulated his obligation to meet not only their demands, but those of the law, the Constitution, contracts held, consent decree, etc., made difficult under such financial constraint. “We’ve gone through everything that is physically possible to make our organization as lean and effective as possible, but we are still burdened,” said Sheriff Villanueva.
Budget shortages are not new. Sheriff Villanueva pointed out financial shortfalls during the tenure of previous administrations and Boards of Supervisors. For fiscal year 2018-2019, CEO Sachi Hamai warned the Board of Supervisors of a $101.8 million budget deficit, primarily for unfunded employee benefits costs, separation pay and miscellaneous pay. These shortfalls are not to be borne; it is a breech to approve contracts of agreement with labor unions to pay employees and refuse to fund it. CEO Hamai told Board members in April, 2018, about our longstanding status of being understaffed and underfunded, “The numbers reflect a historical imbalance in place for the last 20 years, long before the Sheriff was elected,” and, “The Sheriff’s budget does not reflect the actual spending in many of the line item categories.”
Since taking office in 2018, Sheriff Villanueva alleviated the budget by eliminating numerous executive positions, consolidating ten bureaus in to five, mandating divisions to reduce overtime by 50% while striving to maintain essential activities, and eliminating non-line positions. With all this chopping, however, the Board of Supervisors continues to offer a lowball proposal.
Sheriff Villanueva closed the event by offering to meet with the Board of Supervisors and have them identify which activities they wish to curtail (to meet the budget). “We can no longer play games with public safety and pretend, somehow, we have the resources to cover the need. We don’t,” he said.
Sheriff Villanueva Announces LASD Budget Underfunded by $400 Million
During one of his weekly press conferences, broadcast Monday, May 4, 2020, from the Sherman Block Building, Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced the Board of Supervisors’ release of a portion of frozen service and supply funds, and discussed the impact their recommended 2020-2021 budget would have on our agency and the services we provide. The $3.9 billion it costs to provide law enforcement services, subtracted from the recommended budget of $3.5 billion, would leave a staggering $400 million gap.
The Sheriff outlined what underfunding would mean for the Department and its financial impact:
· Reduction of academy classes from 12 to eight, to offer an approximate $21.9 million savings per year;
· Patrol Division cuts. With 191 positions already going unfunded, 137 of them would be integrated into funded line positions in two phases; first with 35, second with 102, to provide a yearly saving of around $22.8 million;
· Homeless Outreach Services Team (HOST) cuts. Instead of the intended increase of team members to 40 positions, the currently unfunded ten positions would be slashed to six bodies, which are funded through AB-109. This offers a yearly cost savings of $1.4 million;
· Altadena Sheriff’s Station would be closed, garnering an annual $6.3 million savings;
· Marina del Rey Sheriff’s Station would be closed, garnering an annual $5.9 million savings;
· Elimination of other unfunded full-time patrol positions, including: o Youth Activities League (YAL) o School resource deputy o Vital Intervention and Directional Alternatives (VIDA) o Nuisance abatement o Community Relations Team o Search and rescue coordinator
· Parks Bureau would be eliminated. Slashing law enforcement services presently dedicated to providing a safe and drug free environment at all Los Angeles County parks, golf courses and special venues will offer a $32.5 million savings. The areas would become the responsibility of the patrol station in which they lie;
· Community Partnership Bureau (COPS) would be eliminated. COPS teams provide supplemental services to residences in our unincorporated areas, specifically addressing the unique and individual needs of each area by identifying crime trends, and quality of life and crime trends. Cutting this bureau would offer a $30 million savings;
· Curtailment of Detective Division positions. Personnel who investigate some of the most heinous crimes, identify dangerous trends, and create new and updated ways of protection against them would be reassigned to fill a funded vacancy elsewhere in our Department. The savings are clearly substantial: o Special Victims Bureau, $23.5 million § Human trafficking § Child abuse § Sexual assaults o Operation Safe Streets (Gang Investigations Bureau), $38.8 million o Fraud and Cyber Crimes Bureau, $13.4 million o Major Crimes Bureau, $22.1 million
While some of these positions are not directly patrol-related, they are part of programs proven to make the communities we serve safer, improve quality of life county-wide, help us sustain life, keep us in direct contact with the public, and help us meet their needs. With a shortage of monies, however, personnel currently assigned to the aforementioned positions will be reassigned, to fill line patrol vacancies and meet basic staffing needs.
With an already-existing vacancy of 712 sworn positions, a budget reduction would reduce academy classes and shrink our agency by an average of 160 deputies per year. “These are not negotiable positions,” said the Sheriff. “These are the line jobs on the Department. These are your deputies working patrol, the deputies working in custody, the detectives out there in the field doing investigations. These are not positions we can just wish away because they’re inconvenient.”
Deficits exist because of large mandatory costs, such as trial court security ($77 million), worker’s compensation ($72.3 million), retirement payouts ($22.7 million), federal lawsuit compliance ($34.9 million), SB-1421 compliance ($3.8 million), and custody mandates ($49.6 million), as well as additional costs for essentials such as helicopter fleet maintenance ($23 million) and mobile radio replacement ($27.4 million).
Sheriff Villanueva covered a variety of topics, with a heavy emphasis on the effects of what a reduced budget will bring. We can tighten our belt and creatively shuffle personnel to alleviate the sting of a fiscal deficit, but ultimately, it is the public who would be impacted by a compromised allowance. And there is no benefit in that.