Police Panel OKs Proposal to Raise Jail's Capacity

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Police Commissioners voted Tuesday to increase capacity at Van Nuys Jail by almost 50% to combat crowding.

The proposal, which would add 135 beds to the 288-inmate facility, must be approved by the City Administrative Officer. It must go before the City Council if the Police Department cannot find money for the expansion in its budget, said Capt. Bruce Mitchell, commanding officer of the planning and research division.

The request from police for more beds cited a Saturday in February when the facility housed 385 inmates. Such crowding causes sanitation and other problems that increase the risk of "harm to the inmates and employees and leave the department unprepared for major task-force and unforeseen mass-arrest situations," the request said.

The jail, in the police station at Sylmar Avenue and Sylvan Street, holds inmates scheduled to appear in nearby courtrooms or who are awaiting transfer to the custody of county jails operated by the Sheriff's Department. The county jails hold most inmates awaiting trial or serving short sentences.

Lt. Lance Romero, supervisor of the Van Nuys Jail, said prisoners arrested outside the San Fernando Valley but transferred to Van Nuys are responsible for the crowding. "If it weren't for them, we could absorb the arrestees from the Valley," he said.

The planned alterations would tighten security in three dormitories originally designed for male trusties but now used for storage, which would provide room for 100 beds for men, Mitchell said.

The jail was designed in 1962 when the city held prisoners serving sentences. Since that practice was halted, there have been no trusties.

An exercise atrium and cafeteria designed for women trusties, which serves no purpose now, would be converted into a 35-bed women's dormitory, Mitchell said.

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