July 7, 2009

LASD contract cities have nowhere to turn

This was an issue we brought up with the city of Lakewood over two years ago. Namely that without competitive bidding contract cities like Lakewood may be getting ripped off. In the sectors where there is real private competition (like street sweeping, tree trimming, trash collection etc.) the city is arguably well served by at least appearing to have used some competitive bidding. But given the length of time some private contractors have been "serving" Lakewood one really starts to wonder just how much these budget increases are due to lack of competitive bidding.

In the law enforcement arena this is doubly so. The problem of course is that the LASD services are offered on a take it or leave it basis. Surely Baca laughs off any complaints by Lakewood as we just built his deputies a $20 million new locker room. So its not like we can drop the LASD at the drop of a hat and get other law enforcement. Thats a real problem and its starts to breed the problems set forth in the story below. The first was total lack of accountability and oversight as to how the "liability trust fund" money was being spent. This issue has been brewing for years and there is still no resolution. Clearly the current situation with the trust fund was brought about due to pressure (in secret) by the deputies labor union.

The other problem is an unclear chain of command and lack of real accountability. The city council only has moderate control over the LASD as a contract city. This is unlike the control cities have over their own city police departments.

The other problem (as exemplified by the trust fund issue) is that cities that have few deputy "problems" (i.e. lawsuits) end up paying a larger share of the "rogue deputy cases" involving "shootings gone bad" etc. that occur in cities that have more crime problems or police clashes with citizens. Again this does not work in Lakewood's favor.

Finally this lack of real bargaining position by the small contract cities is resulting in costs just being passed on to the cities with no real way to control or curtail them, again because the city really does not "run" the LASD and has little ability to control costs other than when at the yearly "bargaining" table.

This lack of real bargaining power due to a lack of alternatives is fostering runaway costs. In FY 2007-2008 the Lakewood LASD contract was $8,862,113.00 (or approx. $216 per year for each registered voter in the city...such a deal!) The FY 2009-2010 the Lakewood LASD contract was $10,423,367.00 (or approx. $254 per year for each registered voter in the city). That is a 17.6% increase! How is this possible with no inflation and almost flat cost of living increases (how many of you in the private sector got a 17% raise in 2009-10?)

So what to do. Well surely we cant continue to deal with LASD the same way as in years past. We need to look at their services and cost of delivery like we would with any other contractor...more critically, especially in light of the budget probles we are sure to have over the next 5 years. One of the problems is that certain people on this city council are probably not very objective when looking at the LASD negotiations or service efficiency.

The other problem is where to turn for a competitive bid. Long Beach PD is an obvious choice but they have their own problems, mostly budgetary. But the real issue is would adding Lakewood to their patrol area and a large chuck of cash to their budget improve not only Lakewood bargaining position with LASD but also raise up the LBPD situation? The other option is looking at starting a city police force but pooling common resources with other small contract cities. Drawbacks include bringing in the same "bad apple" officers that are problems now at LASD. LASD also touts that we get "bonus" services like SWAT and the LASD crime lab etc. included in the deal. However that is not a free "add on". Also when was the last time we needed SWAT in Lakewood? And given the new crime lab's reputation its clearly no bargain.

We think given the way the state and country are headed budget wise that Lakewood is going to have a very tough budgetary road for the next 5 years (Lakewood admits that). The sales tax declines are also going to hurt badly and we dont see that improving any time soon. And we dont see LASD helping Lakewood financially in the future.

We think its time for some real competitive bidding.

La Habra Heights to consider ousting sheriff's; look elsewhere for police contract
By Mike Sprague Staff Writer
Posted: 07/06/2009 11:00:00 PM PDT

LA HABRA HEIGHTS - The tiny rural community of La Habra Heights is at the vanguard of group of cities considering dumping the Sheriff's Department.

La Habra Heights City Manager Shauna Clark will ask the City Council at its 7:30 p.m. meeting Thursday to give her permission to consider contracting for police services with another agency and consider leaving the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

La Habra Heights is among 40 cities that contract with the Sheriff's Department refusing to renew. They are upset that Los Angeles County is forcing them to pay for legal liability in criminal misconduct cases against deputies.

Calls Monday to La Ca ada Flintridge, Duarte and the California Contract Cities Association were not returned. Officials in La Ca ada Flintridge and Duarte have criticized the new contract language.

The cities have threatened to sue the county after it took $5 million from the liability trust fund to settle a case against a Compton deputy who raped three women while on duty.

The cities pay for the fund, which currently has $52 million.

"We don't get to choose our deputies," Clark said. "We don't get to train them. For a small city like us, a large lawsuit in a case like that could break us."

It could mean that La Habra Heights, population 5,712, must purchase additional general liability insurance and establish a liability reserve, she said.

David Sommers, spokesman for Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, said the liability issue may be on its way to being solved.

"We're pretty close to a final resolution," he said. "The talks are still ongoing and the supervisor is hopeful that it will be resolved shortly."

Sommers said he believes the issue between the cities and the county could be smoothed out.

"For more than 50 years, the contract city relationship has worked well," he said.

"Contract cities are the number one customer of the county," he said. "There are more residents in contract cities than in unincorporated areas. They are our No. 1 customer and we have a responsibility to provide excellent customer service."

Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina has said that if the issue isn't resolved by Aug. 31, the contracts with cities won't be renewed.

The contracts were due to expire July 1, but the county extended them until Aug. 31.

In La Habra Heights, liability isn't the only issue.

Clark also is concerned about the rising costs of sheriff's services.

The cost for patrols rose a combined 47 percent over the last five years. In contrast, property tax - the city's main revenue source - increased by only 21 percent during that time.

One possible provider of police services could be Whittier.

Whittier City Manager Steve Helvey said patrolling La Habra Heights might not make financial sense for his city due to its small size and distance from Whittier.

The Sheriff's Department typically only keeps one car in the community.

"We'd still have to be prepared to send in other units," he said. "It's probably not the most convenient situation."

He needs to talk it over with the Whittier City Council, he said.

Should the issue remain unresolved, La Mirada could be another city that would look elsewhere for services, said Councilman Hal Malkin.

One of the last area cities to leave the Sheriff's Department was Santa Fe Springs, which contracted with Whittier for police services in 1995.


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