Audit: LA County Sheriff Responds Slower in Unincorporated Areas Than in Contract Cities

The report comes as the Board of Supervisors is poised to take up the question of public safety resources in unincorporated areas

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    The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department took 1 minute longer to respond to emergencies in unincorporated areas than in contract cities that pay for deputies' patrols, according to a new audit.

    The report from county Auditor-Controller Wendy Watanabe, which covered 2011-2012 fiscal year, also found the department provided only 91 percent of planned patrol hours to unincorporated areas, while providing 99 percent to cities that pay for county police services.

    The Sheriff's Department patrols 42 of LA County's 88 cities, as well as the remaining unincorporated region (PDF), which covers more than two-thirds of the county.

    The findings come after county Supervisor Gloria Molina accused Sheriff Lee Baca of "stealing" police resources from residents in unincorporated neighborhoods, providing better service to contract cities than to unincorporated areas.

    At Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting, Molina was set to propose that the county allow unincorporated areas to form community service districts to better fund law enforcement with the goal of getting a level of service similar to a city police department.

    In her motion (PDF), Molina noted a 2006 Sheriff's Department plan meant to ensure equity between patrol services in contract cities and unincorporated area. Molina said that "the Sheriff is violating his own Equity Model Plan by reducing patrol services in unincorporated areas."

    "The Board has no other choice than to explore options for alternative service delivery models with respect to law enforcement in unincorporated areas," Molina's motion stated.

    The audit, issued Jan. 25 (PDF), came after the board had last spring asked Watanabe to review patrol services in unincorporated areas and to determine if a one-time additional $40.2 million allocated for those services in the 2011-12 budget was used properly. It found the money had been spent as inteded, but noted the Sheriff's Department does not break out services to unincorporated areas separately in its budget.

    The average response time for unincorporated areas was 5.8 minutes, compared to 4.8 minutes for contract cities – a difference of 17 percent – according to the audit.

    The Sheriff's Department said response times were longer because the number of deputies had been reduced by 65 because of budget cuts in prior years, according to the audit.

    Sheriff's Department management likewise blamed in staffing reductions the shortfall in the number of patrol hours in unincorporated hours as compared to contract cities.

    The audit recommended that the board consider legal changes to allow the Sheriff's Department to charge contract cities more for its services. That's largely because the Sheriff's Department last year spent $552 million on those services while making only $371 million in revenue.

    State law prohibits the department from billing contract cities for non-patrol services provided countywide, such as homicide and narcotics detectives and the services of the county's crime lab, according to the Los Angeles Times. That means those services are provided to contract cities at no extra charge.

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