In budget crunch, a top cop takes to the streets

Sheriff Lee Baca of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department is heading back out on patrol to help his agency save $128M

Editor’s Note:

Editor’s Note: At approximately 1500 Pacific Time on Friday March 19, 2010, PoliceOne received word from a friend with LASD that Sheriff Baca will patrol the same streets in East Los Angeles that he’d policed as a young deputy. The updated photo below shows Sheriff Baca preparing for his shift in a two-person patrol car.

Sheriff Lee Baca of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department may in the next several days — and almost certainly in the next several weeks — arrest his first perpetrator in nearly two decades. Baca, in response to a call to reduce his agency’s $1.28 billion share of the L.A. County budget by nearly ten percent, has ordered captains, commanders, assistant chiefs, sheriffs, undersheriffs, and even himself to get back into a patrol car and take up positions that would otherwise be filled by deputies collecting overtime. The annual savings of the move is expected to be about $58 million.

It is not unprecedented for an agency’s top cop to take to the streets, but doing so is not typically framed as a budgetary consideration. Detroit Police Chief Warren Evans has famously ridden in an unmarked car for some time, and Chief George Gascón of the San Francisco Police Department reportedly rode in that city’s troubled Tenderloin District soon after arriving to his new post last summer. But Sheriff Baca, who heads the largest Sheriff’s Department in the nation, will serve “wherever the need is most,” according to LASD spokesperson Steve Whitmore, who took a few moments from his frenetic day to speak exclusively with PoliceOne.

“He might be working custody, he might be a watch commander, he might be on patrols in a two-man patrol car, we don’t know yet ... [but] he’ll be working those assignments a couple of times a month probably on weekends,” Whitmore says.

Whitmore emphasizes that Baca is getting ready to go back out on patrol “sooner rather than later ... because we’ve got to start seeing that savings and cutting this budget.” That budget, he says, is also being trimmed in other ways, notably the elimination of roughly 300 positions — not deputies, but positions — where services will inevitably be lost. Those 300 positions, Whitmore says, were being filled by overtime deputies.

Also on the LASD budget block has been the difficult decision to significantly reduce the number of beds filled at the North Facility of the Pitchess Detention Center. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, the move to transfer hundreds of inmates to other jails in the county system should create roughly $26 million in savings.

“Some [inmates], because of that movement, are going to be released at a 50 percent percentage of time served,” Whitmore concedes.

Nobody wants to see criminals back out on the street any sooner than their full court-ordered term of incarceration. If having Sheriff Baca back in a squad car can help avert that eventuality, leading from the front in this case seems to make a lot of sense.

At minimum, the 18,000+ deputies and civilian employees of LASD have responded very positively to Baca’s announcement, says Whitmore. “They think this is what should be done. If the Sheriff is willing to do it, we’re willing to do it.”

Budget cuts have hit every department in the nation. Some agencies have had to trim their ranks while most all have had to shuffle detectives and others into patrol duties. What has your agency done to stave off the layoffs? Has your department had to trim its number of officers? Add your comments below.

About the author

Doug Wyllie is Editor at Large for PoliceOne, responsible for providing police training content and expert analysis on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. An award-winning columnist — he is the 2014 Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" winner in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column — Doug has authored more than 900 feature articles and tactical tips. Doug is also responsible for planning and recording the PoliceOne Podcast, Policing Matters, as well as being the on-air host for PoliceOne Video interviews. Doug also works closely with the PoliceOne Academy to develop training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.

Doug regularly represents PoliceOne as a public speaker in a variety of forums and is available for media interviews — he has appeared on numerous local and national radio and television news programs, and has been quoted in a host of print publications. 

Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

Contact Doug Wyllie

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