Ordering off the crime prevention menu saves money
■ Emmett Campbell / Contributed
People living in cities around Los Angeles say they feel safer with the sheriff.
Known around the world for inventing movie stars and innovative techniques in the film industry, Los Angeles County is also out in front in the business of badges and guns for hire. Around 50 percent of the county’s municipalities look for bids in police services, finding the best deals in the Sheriff’s Department.
Los Angeles County Sheriff runs an aggressive operation designed to drum up business from city officials who claim they can buy better police service for substantially less money.
In contracts anywhere from $250,000 a year to $10 million, Los Angeles suburbs are purchasing an operation similar to an independent police department with all the goodies – helicopters, SWAT teams, dogs, cops on bikes, crime scene experts, etc. and still maintain a significant measure of control over police strategies and priorities.
The following will provide an idea of how contracting works in cities with a population similar to Hemet.
A man on a bike spun around when he noticed that a Deputy Sheriff was looking at him. The deputy jumped out of a sheriff’s car marked “City of Lakewood” and asked the man for ID.
“I’ve never met you or seen you in this area,” said the deputy. “I just wanted to make sure everything is on the up and up.”
Over five years, the deputy got to know the city as if it were his own neighborhood. That’s what city officials want.
“People in this city take great interest in the police because they feel like it’s their own department,” explained the deputy.
Civic leaders who incorporated Lakewood in 1954 wanted to keep the sheriff’s deputies who already patrolled the area, so the city offered to buy them.
It was the first police contract for the sheriff, and one of the first in the country.
Today, Lakewood, population 80,000, hires more than 100 deputies to protect its strip malls, soccer fields and subdivisions, paying extra for a full-time helicopter.
Two deputies exclusively patrol the Lakewood Center Mall, which has a substation offering safety advice for the public.
“We have a very good relationship with the sheriff’s deputies,” according to the mall’s senior property manager. “They are responsive to our requirements, and if we have any problems, we sit down and work them out.”
People come to West Hollywood to get a look at the rich and famous, bringing crime and civil disobedience with them. This has resulted in city officials asking their hired police, the Sheriff’s Department, to form a unit to patrol up and down Sunset Boulevard where two dozen nightclubs and restaurants coexist on a two-mile strip.
As the community’s permanent population of 37,000 increases on a weekend night to more than 100,000, it needs 15 deputies to patrol by foot, bicycle and car.
“We know there are guns on the strip, so be careful,” the team’s leader told his deputies at a recent 10 p.m. roll call. “Make as much of an impact as you can,” including writing tickets for minor offenses such as jaywalking and loitering. “We look to the city council for the types of issues they want us to underscore,” said the team leader. “If they want us to look for violations that interfere with the quality of life, we do it.”
To learn the community, deputies are typically assigned to the station for years and city officials assist in selecting the station captain but don’t bother with politics and personnel issues. There is always a full staff because the department sends in a substitute if a deputy gets sick or injured.
The city mayor said that “it is mind boggling why a city would continue to put money into their own police department.” “It would cost $5 to $6 million additional to support a local police department and having to maintain and update equipment. Instead, we have more money in the budget to spend on other city services.”
Compton is an urban city next to south central LA, known for poverty, gangs and violence. Deputies are so busy running between violent crimes that they sometimes can’t be bothered with prostitutes and crack addicts on street corners. Sound familiar?
The backlog would have been worse before Compton hired out policing in 1999. The sheriff rolls out more than a dozen cars at a time to cover its 101,000 people and 10 square miles; Compton used to have just five cars on a shift.
Residents said any serious incident used to overwhelm the local police. If deputies get overwhelmed by emergencies now, they can draw immediately on the immense resources of their own department for help.
The owner of a local donut shop explained, “When we called Compton police, it took them two hours to show up. When a man was shot behind my business a few days ago, the sheriff’s department responded in three minutes.”
The taxpayers of Compton save more than $7 million a year — over a third of what they were paying before — in the deal…Compton officers who met county standards were hired in the transition.
“The good citizens are happy we are here,” a Sheriff’s spokesman said. “We provide so many more resources and better service.”
Contract cities have, on average, significantly higher clearance rates for violent crimes than department cities and the same clearance rates for property crimes. It does not appear that contract cities are paying less because they are getting lower quality police service, at least as measured by crime clearance.
According to Wikipedia in criminal justice, clearance rate is calculated by dividing the number of crimes that are “cleared” (a charge being laid) by the total number of crimes recorded. Clearance rates are used by various groups as a measure of crimes solved by the police.
So many cities have turned to the badges and guns for hire model that a California Contract Cities Association was formed.
Members buy protection in San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange, Contra Costa and Sacramento counties.
More than 80 percent of California cities formed in the past 50 years adopted the contract city model, selecting services to fit specific requirements.
“It’s like a menu, and you can pick what you want, said a Norwalk City Council Member. “I think that’s pretty cool.”