Wednesday, May 15, 2002
Board Seeks to Shift Full Cost of Bailiffs, Security Services to Courts
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
County supervisors grappling with what they called a runaway Sheriff’s Department budget sought legislation yesterday to require the Los Angeles Superior Court to pay the full cost of bailiff and security services in each courthouse.
The court already pays for uniformed front-line courtroom officers under a contract with the county. But under current law the county must foot the bill for the full complement of lieutenants, captains, commanders, chiefs and support staff that sheriff’s officials say are necessary to adequately staff the courts.
Chief Marvin Dixon of the Administrative Services Division told the board that the savings expected from the controversial 1994 absorption by the sheriff of the Marshal’s Department, which served the municipal courts, were largely depleted several years later by a shift in trial court funding from the county to the state.
On the day that Gov. Gray Davis released a state budget proposal calling for deep cuts in moneys paid to counties, Los Angeles County chief administrator David Janssen did not appear hopeful that the Legislature would relieve the county of its duty to pay a share of bailiffing and court security.
“We’ve raised the issue with the state before and they say they don’t have any money to pay for it,” Janssen told the board.
The discussion of the sheriff’s court services operation was just a part of a two-hour-long dressing-down the supervisors delivered to Dixon on the department’s budget. With hearings set to begin today on Janssen’s proposal to slash spending, the board blasted what members called Sheriff Lee Baca’s irresponsible budgeting.
Supervisor Gloria Molina singled out the department’s contract for policing in independent cities, saying the city of Pico Rivera gets up to $200,000 more in sheriff’s services than it pays for, causing unincorporated county areas to suffer policing cutbacks.
The city is one of 41 that contracts for sheriff’s services rather than operate its own police force. A task force is currently studying how many of those contracts, which at one time were seen as a revenue generator for the county, result in a net loss.
Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke said the city of Compton got 130 percent of the patrol time required under its new contract with the sheriff, while surrounding unincorporated areas got slightly less than 50 percent of the patrol time they needed.
To make matters worse, Molina said, Baca’s department is paying deputies and staff to run background checks of police officers and perform other studies in the city of South Gate as part of a proposal to take over that troubled city’s law enforcement responsibilities.
“This sheriff continues to go out and tries to solicit an additional contract in South Gate,” Molina said, placing the county in the midst of a political struggle in which two factions of elected officials are struggling for control of the city in political and court battles.
A recall campaign is in motion against the three members of the council majority that has asked for the sheriff to make a proposal for law enforcement services. Members of the South Gate Police Department—which in recent years has been recognized as first-rate force for a city of nearly 100,000—have vocally backed the recall campaign.
About a dozen South Gate residents and off-duty officers attended the meeting and cheered Molina’s attempt to stop the department’s study of that city.
“Our city is going through a tremendous amount of turmoil right now,” Pastor Charles N. Brady of the Redeemer Lutheran Church told the board. “Now is not the time for our city to contract with the Sheriff’s Department.”
The board approved a Molina motion directing the department to immediately halt its South Gate study. But the sheriff is under no obligation to abide by the board’s demand, and Dixon declined to agree to it.
“We’re uncomfortable saying no to a lawfully elected council,” Dixon told the board.
The sharpest criticism of the department was delivered by Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
“When you strip away all the BS you don’t’ know what’s happening in your own budget,” Yaroslavsky told Dixon.
The supervisor also criticized the department for arranging to send deputies to next weeks’ hearing on the budget to demand more funding.
“If 3,000 deputy sheriffs have the time to come down here, maybe they have time to do some law enforcement,” he said.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company