Tuesday, August 28, 2001
Glendale Police Chief Says Courthouse Changes May Put Public Safety at Risk
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
Public safety could be at risk in the city of Glendale if a proposed courthouse plan goes forward, Glendale Police Chief Russ Siverling said yesterday.
Siverling criticized the plan, which would transfer all of Glendale’s criminal cases to Burbank, with Glendale handling the civil caseload for both courthouses. He said it would take on-duty Glendale police officers off the streets and away from the city they serve.
Glendale’s police headquarters is across the street from the Glendale courthouse.
“I think the court is making these decisions in a vacuum,” Siverling said. “They aren’t looking at the total impacts.”
A court spokesman said a decision on the plan is expected by Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge James Bascue in the next month.
Siverling said having on-duty patrol officers drive to Burbank would reduce the number of available officers of an already extremely lean staffed department.
The police chief added that off-duty officers testifying in court would be forced to make the extra 15- to 20-minute commute to Burbank, adding at least a half an hour department overtime sheets.
Siverling said taking away Glendale’s criminal role completely is just a sign of things to come as “the fast-moving train is already halfway down the track” of being phased out.
“This is the slow bleeding out of the Glendale Municipal Court,” Siverling said.
The Glendale Municipal Court ceased to exist in January 2000 with the unification of the county’s 24 municipal courts with the Superior Court. Critics of the merger charged that communities would lose the special relationship they have with their courts, but proponents pointed to expected cost-savings and efficiencies.
In February the court announced a plan to move all of Glendale’s overflow cases to Burbank. The move officially took place in April, Siverling said.
But the plan encompassed much more than just the overflow, Siverling said, moving the majority of Glendale’s jury trials to Burbank. He said he worries that promises of keeping city ordinances in their local jurisdictions will not be fulfilled.
North Central District Supervising Judge Carl West said Burbank is better suited for criminal cases and the advantages to the plan outweigh the convenience of police officers walking across the street to the courthouse.
“What we are trying to do is make the best use not only of our facilities, but also our judicial resources,” West said, adding that consolidation would put five criminal judges in one courthouse instead of being split between two locations.
West also said the plan would also put area public defenders and deputy district attorneys in Burbank.
But Siverling said the consolidation would force investigators who file cases with the District Attorney’s Office to lose time waiting for administrative issues to be taken care of before returning to Glendale. The current system provides for investigators to have repeated contact with deputy district attorneys without a lot of wait time.
West argued that the proposed change would be beneficial to both communities by diverting criminals to a higher security location in Burbank and give the civil work to Glendale.
Sheriff’s Department Capt. Roberta Abner, formerly of Court Services, said the Glendale courthouse could use some security enhancements.
“It needs to be better, definitely,” Abner said. “There are risks associated with Glendale.”
Substantial upgrades were made to the Burbank location in 1995 and the facility now boasts a state-of-the-art lockup facility, ample parking, a juror assembly room, and a sally port—a secured, enclosed area where inmates are transferred to and from Sheriff’s Department buses.
In contrast, the nearly 50-year-old Glendale facility has none of these amenities, featuring a severe lack of parking and a chain link tunnel where prisoners are transferred to and from vans.
Silverling said transferring prisoners to Burbank would require at least one more officer and bigger transfer vans.
While court deputies said difference between the two courthouses was “undeniable,” the problem facing the Glendale courthouse is not the facilities, but the system itself.
Prisoners are being kept in holding cells much longer than they are supposed to be, which leads to an increased security risk, Deputy Mike Ridge said.
“It’s my personal opinion that if things were taken care of in an efficient and timely manner, there wouldn’t be a problem,” Ridge said. “But we can’t tell judges what to do.”
Ridge said inmates are woken up at 3:30 in the morning to be at court at 8:30, but that some inmates are remaining in holding cells until 6 or 6:30 at night.
“This isn’t meant to be an overnight facility,” he said.
Deputy Allen Jacobs agreed that the system was a problem, saying that the number of courtrooms hearing criminal proceedings has been reduced from four courtrooms to two.
Burbank city officials also oppose the possibility of consolidating the area’s criminal caseload into its courthouse
In an Aug. 21 letter to Supervisor Mike Antonovich, whose district includes both courthouses, Burbank City Manager Robert Ovrom said “we now feel that we are being ‘punished’ for our good work in 1995 to upgrade the Burbank Courthouse.”
The letter asked Antonovich for a meeting between the supervisor, city attorneys, police chiefs, city managers, and City Council representatives from both cities.
A meeting date has not yet been set.
Siverling said he has already filed a formal appeal with West and is currently contacting city council members to alert them of the situation.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company