City Council Candidate Bob Spierer weighs in on popular debate in an editorial.
As a retired Sheriff’s Department division chief and former captain of the SCV Sheriff’s Station, I am very interested in the suggestion that it might be possible to improve response times and place greater local control on law enforcement services by creating our own police department.
The city currently contracts for law enforcement services with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The author did his homework to identify the current cost of the law enforcement contract (approximately $16 million) and the estimated cost to duplicate those services (over $25 million) through the formation of a Santa Clarita Police Department. I applaud him for digging for facts and identifying key issues, but there is still more to the picture that the author did not fully understand.
Let me add a little more background, and an alternate suggestion that would provide the enhancements that the author is seeking – but at a lower cost than he proposes.
When an area becomes a city, it takes responsibility for providing all of the law enforcement services that had previously been provided by both the Sheriff’s Department and the Highway Patrol. Some cities opt to form their own police departments. However, many cities established since the mid 1950s (when the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department created the contract concept) have asked the Sheriff’s Department to provide those services.
When Santa Clarita incorporated, the City Council voted to contract with the Sheriff’s Department. By that contract, the Sheriff’s Department officially became Santa Clarita’s police department. Because I was the station commander at the time, I became Santa Clarita’s first chief of police. The city made me as much a part of the city staff as any other department head. I participated in city department head meetings and worked closely with the City Council and city manager to establish the city’s law enforcement priorities.
Santa Clarita’s first city manager had previously worked in cities that had their own police departments. Not surprisingly, he was concerned about how well the city could direct its law enforcement efforts under the contract. He later told me that the Sheriff was more responsive than some of his prior police departments.
He was also pleased that he no longer had the labor, absentee, injury or training issues that he had with his own police departments. A few years back, those very same issues forced the city of Long Beach to enter into a multi-year contract whereby the Sheriff’s Department policed approximately 1/5 of Long Beach until they were able to reverse their labor and hiring problems.
Santa Clarita has not been alone in taking the contract path. So have the cities of Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Diamond Bar, Lakewood, Rancho Palos Verdes, West Hollywood, and Westlake Village. In fact, there are currently 40 cities in Los Angeles County that have hired the Sheriff’s Department to be their police force.
Some cities, such as Compton and Lynwood, have eliminated their own police departments in order to contract with the Sheriff’s Department. So have the L.A. Community College District and the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
Cost is clearly one of the advantages of having the Sheriff’s Department police our city. But so is access to the Sheriff’s full resources, including highly trained and specialized detective, narcotic, and SWAT units.
In contracting with the Sheriff’s Department, the City of Santa Clarita gets to decide how it wants to expend its law enforcement resources and where it wants to add additional enforcement. Only the realities of the city’s budget and the will of the City Council determine how much is spent to combat crime. Those decisions do not come, as the commentary suggested, from “downtown Los Angeles.”
Santa Clarita deputies are mostly residents of our valley. They care about this community and they work very hard to keep it safe. If their routine response times sometimes seem long, it is because of their workload and not any other factor.
Having a similarly sized municipal police department would not change that workload. Ask a neighbor who moved here from another city and you will be pleasantly surprised by just how responsive our Sheriff’s Department is.
Santa Clarita could spend $25 million or more to recreate what we get from the Sheriff’s Department for less than $16 million, but we would lose the ready access to the vast resources of the Sheriff’s Department and gain personnel issues that do not exist now. What we would get for our extra tax money would be different color uniforms with different patches, but no better response times.
That brings us to my suggestion. We can get better response times and targeted enforcement to meet our greatest needs for less than the cost of a municipal police department. How? By simply taking a portion of the money we save by contracting with the Sheriff’s Department and reinvesting it in additional deputies and programs. More for less instead of less for more. That makes sense to me.