The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors prompts a new political battle with the Sheriff’s Department on Tuesday, December 7 over whether the board’s efforts on financial austerity to manage the department’s cost overruns represent “police defiance.” .
Tensions over the department’s massive $3.6 billion budget are nothing new. But the latest twist: Is more money needed to fill 642 vacancies of sworn personnel at a time when violent crime is on the rise and pre-pandemic demands for law enforcement are intensifying.
On Tuesday, the board pushed back claims they were “defending” the sheriff’s department by not allowing more hiring. However, more money to fill the department’s vacancies may come with conditions that new recruits be vaccinated for COVID-19.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger said, “I don’t want the story to be that we’re not allowing hiring based on the board’s reluctance to fund law enforcement, when I don’t believe that’s the case.” Department budget of $3.6 billion.
The board is keeping a close watch on the finances of the department after cost escalation in recent years. Last year, the board requested the release of about $83 million out of the $144 million Sheriff Alex Villanueva requested to deal with capital expenditures and costs related to the pandemic. But it was incidental to Villanueva continuing to work with the county CEO’s office to review and reduce expenses.
The spending restrictions include “purchase controls,” including a reduction in funding of academy classes, which the sheriff says is preventing them from keeping pace with the requirement to hire for 361 vacant sub positions.
“We need to hire an average of eight to 12 academy classes per year, each class of 85, and they have reduced us from 12 to four, which means we will be smaller by the end of next March. There are now,” Villanueva said in a Facebook chat last week. We are going to reduce 200 to 300 deputies, which will make our ability to fulfill our contracts more difficult.”
Villanueva did not speak during Tuesday’s meeting.
It was a message that upset observers, who questioned Villanueva’s claims. But it has also prompted a new look at whether the board should increase the number of academy classes—which run about $12 million each—the department can get back.
On the one hand, observers said that the current number of budget academies, though not the same as before, appears to be sufficient to meet the pledged personnel requirement of the department.
“Budget academies will actually have sworn personnel, entry-level, to make sure the areas involved are covered,” said board chair Holly Mitchell.
But Barger said that by next year, when a new batch of sworn personnel retires, there will be a shortage of essential staff.
“I am deeply concerned by the vacancies that are currently on the books,” she said. “And then knowing that we’re going to have individuals to retire, which happens in every department coming in March, that will further drive up the vacancy rate in the sheriff’s department. And I for one in the 5th district, sure.” What we want to do is to provide all resources to those who are expecting us to provide public safety.”
County finance officials agreed to do more analysis on the issue, including the amount that would be needed to maintain the estimated vacancies.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who last year urged an end to some training academy classes to save tens of millions of dollars, said it could very well come with terms if more money is released.
The analysis of giving Villanueva more academy classes should include evidence that academy classes are translating to full-time job vacancies.
“Let’s see what the record is, and see if he’s really doing it,” she said. “Because to say, ‘Oh, you’re not paying me enough money,’ but he’s not hiring recruits, etc., I think it would be good for us to know.
Kuehl also took issue with the department’s push-back on county fiscal restrictions in light of Villanueva’s own rejection of the county vaccine mandate.
For weeks, Villanueva has slammed the county’s vaccine mandate for employees, saying he will not force his duties to be vaccinated. But Kuehl said he may need to make some concessions if he wants more money and more officials with the blessing of the board.
“We might be thinking of saying to many sheriff’s deputies: You’re refusing vaccination. You’re not meeting county requirements,” Kuehl said. “You’re not exempt. I’m sorry. You’re out of here. The board would like to consider expanding the academy’s classes.”
The report on the department’s financial condition showed a county and department that dealt with multimillion-dollar losses over the past two fiscal years took drastic measures to successfully cut the agency’s overtime costs. But the agency says such reductions are not sustainable at last year’s pace, given the rise in crime and homicides in the county and an emerging glimpse of pre-COVID-19 life, according to the county report. .
According to the report, the overtime cuts — totaling $99.9 million — made a significant dent in the department’s losses, and yet exceeded the agency’s $129 million overtime budget by $50.8 million.
The report comes amid fiscal and operational challenges for several county departments, hit by falling revenue amid the pandemic – and with a hiring freeze still in effect.
The pandemic and its associated nationwide shutdown prompted the department to shift duty and reassign detained staff to reduce overtime hours and other costs.
Reportedly, County Chief Executive Officer Facia A. By Davenport, the changes included the temporary reassignment of detention and patrol staff “to duties that would otherwise have been met with personnel working overtime.”
It didn’t hurt that court operations, prison visits, training and security needs at schools and programs were reduced over the past two fiscal years, allowing the department to cut overtime costs.
But those days are over, according to the report, noting that the department still needs to find ways to keep costs down.
According to the report, “LASD, like the rest of the county, is being hit by a steady reopening and uneven economy as a gradual, but safe, return to a revised version of pre-COVID-19 operations.” continues.” This includes court services, prison visitation and sub-supervision at events and schools.
The department pointed out that the overtime savings of the previous financial year are “not sustainable”.
This was due to an increase in violent crime, an increase in the number of public records requests, drug enforcement and what the agency said was a budget cut in the number of academy classes from 12 to 4, resulting in a slowdown in LASD’s ability to fill vacancies. fill up and hence there is a need for utilization of overtime to address the vacancy,” according to the department.
If the department is to keep its $3.6 billion budget in balance, county officials pointed to overtime costs that are already rising, prompting the report’s emphasis on the need to keep such costs down.
The issue of the rising cost of overtime and academy classes comes in the context of ongoing budget and political tensions between the board of supervisors and the sheriff. Supervisors are trying to rein in the increase in costs for the sheriff’s department.
Last week, Villanueva alleged that the county’s “recruitment freeze is strictly retaliation against me by the Board of Supervisors of the Sheriff’s Department….”
Villanueva said the sharp cut would affect a range of services from toxicology testing to maintenance of patrol vehicles to training standards.
But Kuehl and other observers pointed to ongoing department losses each year that Kuehl said were “not fair to taxpayers” and “harmful to the overall county budget.”
While the budget cuts of more than $145 million have eliminated 1,281 LASD-wide positions, according to the report, the CEO said the austerity has driven “progress” in reducing the budget.
For the first time since fiscal year 2016-17, the department’s budget is balanced, which also includes repaying a $63.4 million loan to the department to address the department’s 2018-19 budget deficit.
“However, the mitigation efforts to achieve a balanced budget were mostly one-time in nature and cannot be harnessed by the LASD on an ongoing basis,” the CEO said in the report.
And although overtime was one of the most “impressive” challenges, there are others, according to the report.
— a contract with the LA Community College District is about to expire, which could result in a loss of revenue;
– the need for more staff to address the increase in the prison population;
– the need for more funding to address the growing violent crime, homelessness and illegal cannabis issues; And
– Cost of infrastructure, such as technology and equipment.
County officials say keeping department costs down — including overtime — will require keeping a close eye on issues that come to the fore throughout the year.
This may mean implementing financial strategies that include “closely monitoring spending” to ensure that LASDs continue to manage their budgets appropriately.