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Cuts in sheriff's patrol services fuel accusations

January 22, 2013 |  6:38 pm

Los Angeles County supervisors on Tuesday said Sheriff Lee Baca’s suspension of deputy overtime has dramatically reduced patrol operations and jeopardized public safety.

In a contentious meeting of the Board of Supervisors, Baca was attacked for ignoring the needs of unincorporated parts of the county in favor of cities that contract with his department for police services. They said his overtime cuts were disproportionately affecting unincorporated neighborhoods. Supervisor Gloria Molina went so far as to accuse Baca of “stealing” police resources from residents in those areas.

“I object to that,” Baca responded.

“And I object to your stealing,” Molina shot back.

“Stealing is over the top, supervisor,” Baca replied. “How can you say something that is so outrageous that is not worth the dignity of your office?”

Baca said it was unrealistic for the supervisors to expect him to provide the same level of police services when they’ve made major cuts to his budget in recent years.

“Let’s be real about the numbers of our county budget,” Baca said. “We’re at a crisis... If you don’t have the money, you just don’t have the money.”

According to Baca’s spokesman, the sheriff’s budget -- currently at $2.8 billion -- was cut by the board by $128 million in 2010, $96 million in 2011 and $140 million last year.

Despite those cuts, the sheriff said that “we have the lowest crime rate we’ve had in 40 years.”

While the homicide rate is at a historic low, recently released sheriff’s statistics show that serious crime did increase 4.2% last year and all types of crime jumped 3%.

Baca and his predecessors have long wrangled with the board over budgetary matters. Although the board sets the sheriff’s budget, Baca, an elected official, has wide discretion on how to spend it.

The Sheriff’s Department polices about three-fourths of the county. Along with the unincorporated parts, Baca’s deputies patrol more than 40 cities that don’t have their own police forces.

The patrol obligations for those cities are set in contracts with the department. So overtime cuts are more likely to hurt unincorporated areas, the supervisors argued.

Baca’s said his decision to suspend all overtime earlier this month came when he noticed a spike in such expenditures. His spokesman said he had to make the temporary cut to ensure he’d meet his budget at the end of the fiscal year.

The cuts are already having an impact, supervisors said. In Valinda and Bassett -- neighborhoods in the San Gabriel Valley -- more than five sheriff’s cars were patrolling during a typical evening, but now there are only two, supervisors said. Unincorporated areas near Azusa, Claremont and Pomona have also been affected -- losing one patrol car on average during early morning shifts.

Molina, who shouted Baca down more than once during the hearing, said she was considering commissioning “independent private patrol cars” to replace cuts in sheriff’s patrols -- a suggestion Baca discouraged.

Molina said Baca should make cuts in other departmental functions, not patrol, to cope with his reduced budget.

-- Robert Faturechi