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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: 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.

L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca photographed preparing for his shift patrolling the streets of East LA on March 19, 2010. Baca has ordered captains, commanders, assistant chiefs, sheriffs, undersheriffs, and even himself to get back into a patrol car in an effort to help his agency save $128M. (Photo by LASD)
L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca photographed preparing for his shift patrolling the streets of East LA on March 19, 2010. Baca has ordered captains, commanders, assistant chiefs, sheriffs, undersheriffs, and even himself to get back into a patrol car in an effort to help his agency save $128M. (Photo by LASD)

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.

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