By The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department
Sheriff Alex Villanueva submitted his proposed budget to the Board of Supervisors (BOS) and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Sachi Hamai for $3.9B, an amount that accurately reflects the true cost of providing public safety to Los Angeles County. They responded [April 28] with a recommended budget of $3.5B, a shortfall of $400M which once again fails to address the structural deficits they are aware of and chose to ignore. By intentionally underfunding the Department by 10%, this belies the Board’s claim their funding levels were “adequate” for public safety.
The CEO has set the budget target at a level that is unreasonable, unrealistic, and thus unachievable via the imposed mechanism to fund and offset the rising cost increases in negotiated employee benefits. The Department will continue to be blamed for mandatory spending costs created by the CEO but not funded properly. As previously noted, since 2000, the LASD budget has grown on average 0.86% every five years, an almost flat growth rate that does not cover rising labor and operating costs. In addition to the underfunding, over the last five years the LASD budget has decreased in relation to the overall county budget by 1.41%.
The new budget fails to address multiple, on-going mandated structural deficits outside of LASD control, such as worker’s compensation costs ($72.3M) and retirement payments ($22.7M). Other mandated costs not included in the recommended budget are federal lawsuit compliance ($34.9M), trial court security funding ($76.9M), and costs associated with SB 1421 compliance ($3.8M). Additional costs ignored by the Board and CEO were mobile radio replacements ($27.4M) and helicopter fleet maintenance ($23M).
The Board and the CEO have repeatedly claimed the LASD budget shortfall is due primarily to over-expenditures in overtime and under-realization of revenues. Yet, overtime is down from the previous year, despite cost of living allowance (COLA) increases on overtime, which are also not funded. Unlike most county departments, the LASD runs a 24/7 operation with positions that must be filled without consideration to cost.
As a result of the deliberate underfunding of the LASD by the BOS and CEO, the Department could be forced to make very difficult cuts that will affect the level of public safety provided to the community. The Department will be forced to make cuts to investigative units which incur a net county cost, such as Human Trafficking, Child Abuse and Sexual Assaults, Gangs, Homicide, and the Homeless Outreach Services Team. Additionally, cuts will be made to patrol in unincorporated areas and custody operations, which means less deputies will be on the streets and in the jails. LASD rescue and patrol helicopter services could potentially be curtailed, taking away a vital tool in criminal apprehension and life-saving rescues.
The 2020-2021 budget forces the Department to once again absorb the rising overtime rates. Moreover, the budget amount for Department overtime is not funded at an appropriate level to begin with, because the budget amount has no base. If a vacancy occurs in patrol, there is no other option than to hire overtime to fill that position in order to ensure someone responds when 9-1-1 is called.
Since Sheriff Villanueva was elected crime has dropped, jail violence has dropped, hiring has increased, community engagement has increased, and LASD is more transparent than ever before. We are on the right track and moving in the right direction. The Board should realize there never is a good time to play politics with public safety. Our communities deserve better than just “adequate” law enforcement services. Funding for the LASD should be based on the true cost of providing public safety, period.