By the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department
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, man-made 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 Alex Villanueva during a virtual press conference given Wednesday, May 13, 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 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 [offered] 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.
View the full press conference below: