The request was straightforward, even flattering. Send a few hundred Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies across the country next month to assist Washington, D.C., police at the presidential inauguration.
It's the price tag of $1.6 million -- with as much as $1 million coming from the county -- that has given some top officials indigestion.
"We're not in a position to police other cities, as worthy as this is," Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said Tuesday. "This is not an emergency. This is not Katrina, this is not a hurricane or a natural disaster."
Sheriff Lee Baca, in a letter dated Tuesday, asked county supervisors to approve plans to charter a plane and fly 347 deputies to Washington, where they would work for four days. A decision was postponed until next week's meeting.
At issue is who will ultimately pay for what.
Everyone agrees that Washington police would pick up the tab for $533,000 in airfare and $97,000 in per diem expenses, but that amount accounts for only a portion of the costs.
County officials estimate that they would be on the hook for another $905,000 in salary and benefits. In addition, there is $81,000 in needed "cold weather gear" including jackets, gloves, hats and "turtleneck dickies," at a cost of $232 per deputy.
Baca said Tuesday that concern about repayment is "much ado about nothing."
"The reality is the county will pay nothing for this," he said, adding that the questions raised about costs are coming as he is still in negotiations with Washington police and the inaugural committee.
Baca said that providing mutual aid was good policy, adding that earthquake-prone Los Angeles may one day need the favor returned.
Baca's spokesman, Steve Whitmore, said Tuesday that although D.C. police requested several hundred deputies, so far they have offered to reimburse the salaries of only 40.
The Sheriff's Department agreed to foot the cost of winter weather gear because it will be used again by deputies working in colder parts of the county, Whitmore said.
"What the sheriff has said is the department is willing to provide the deputies requested, but they will have to pay all of their salaries," Whitmore said. Some 64 deputies worked the 2004 Bush inaugural, with the costs reimbursed by the Washington, D.C., Metro Police Department.
Even if the entire cost of the trip is covered, Yaroslavsky and Supervisor Michael Antonovich said they would have trouble approving it.
"The sheriff's first responsibility is to the citizens of Los Angeles County, to ensure that we have adequate protection at any time of day," Antonovich said. "If they need additional personnel on the East Coast, then they need to utilize personnel on the East Coast."
Another concern -- despite assurances from the sheriff that those sent would come from "non-emergency" positions -- is whether the county would incur additional overtime costs for deputies needed to backfill for those in Washington.
"We have a fiscal crisis on our hands and an even worse one looming on the horizon. Our job is to husband our resources," Yaroslavsky said.
It was unclear Tuesday whether there were enough votes on the five-member board to permit the plan to go forward when it comes up again next week.
"There are clearly pros and cons to doing so," Ridley-Thomas said. "The question in the final analysis is whether the sheriff and other proponents can persuade the board that this is a defensible thing to do."
The call for help went out weeks ago, said Traci Hughes of the Washington, D.C., police.
"We are expecting historical crowd numbers and there are numerous [inaugural] ball sites" that have to be secured, Hughes said. "Keep in mind too that we have to ensure that people can get in and out of the city. So there will be officers manning traffic posts and just a variety of things."
As of Tuesday, 96 law enforcement agencies had promised to supply 4,000 additional staff for the inauguration, effectively doubling the ranks of the Washington, D.C., department, Hughes said. Several West Coast law enforcement agencies were approached, she said. Hughes declined to say which ones, citing securityconcerns.
Los Angeles Police Department officials said Tuesday that they had not received any requests to provide officers for the inauguration.
The department, however, does plan to send a small team of tactical commanders to the inauguration to observe crowd control.
Steve Remige, president of the Assn. of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, which represents rank-and-file deputies, said Tuesday that his members "are flattered that the inaugural committee believes Los Angeles deputy sheriffs are needed to provide security for the inauguration."
But, he said, given the state's growing budget deficit, what could amount to a $1-million gift from the county seemed impractical at best.
"It might be the season for giving," Remige said, "but this is over the top."
Hennessy-Fiske and Winton are Times staff writers.