Jail Space Issue Sparks Quarrel Between Police, Sheriff's Brass

Times Staff Writer

An unusual public disagreement between Los Angeles' two largest law enforcement agencies surfaced last week over a lack of county jail space.

Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates asserted in a letter that the Sheriff's Department, which runs the county jails, has been refusing to house some inmates, including some accused felons arrested by Los Angeles police, because its jails are too crowded.

Gates said in a letter to the Los Angeles Police Commission that his department has had to expand its own jail facilities, which are not designed for long-term confinement, as a result of the Sheriff's Department's refusal to accept some of the arrestees.

Noting that state law makes it the responsibility of the Sheriff's Department, a county agency, to take custody of those arrested, Gates said he is recommending that city officials "explore the option of recovering . . . costs from the county."

Denial by Sheriff

However, Sheriff Sherman Block denied that his department is turning away arrestees.

"My advice to the county will be not to honor any demand on the part of the city for any reimbursement," Block said, "because, yes, it is our responsibility to accept all persons arrested on state code violations--even prior to arraignment. But . . . what I'm saying is we are not refusing to take people."

While it was not possible to determine independently who was correct, there is no dispute about the severity of jail overcrowding. The county jail population has exploded from 8,000 to more than 22,000 in less than a decade.

Gates said in his letter, which the Police Commission approved without debate, that the Sheriff's Department "has been compelled to initiate efforts to reduce jail population wherever possible. As a result, the Sheriff's Department now requires prior notification before they will authorize detention of (Police) department arrestees in either (men's) Central Jail or Sybil Brand Institute for Women.

"During the notification process," Gates' letter continued, "sheriff's personnel review the circumstances of the arrest, and if in their judgment the subject qualifies for release (chiefly under a Penal Code provision that requires law enforcement agencies to free accused misdemeanants without bail in return for their promise to appear in court) . . . authorization for detention may be denied."

Asked in an interview when his department had begun insisting on advance notification, Block said:

"We never have and we don't now. Let me qualify that by saying what we have asked is that they notify us if they're going to undertake some major sweep--a drug sweep, a prostitution sweep or something, so there can be an anticipation of numbers of people that are going to have to be processed.

'Never . . . Turned Away'

"But as far as any requirement that somebody pick up the phone and run an arrest by us to see if they qualify (for release) or not, that has never been. There have been people brought to the facilities who have not been accepted. But they've never been turned away because of space.

"What I'm saying," Block continued, "is if somebody comes who obviously should be taken to a medical or psychiatric facility, our people might say that this person is not fit for booking at this time, which is not a frequent occurrence."

Gates' chief spokesman, Cmdr. William Booth, declined comment when informed of the gist of Block's response.

Gates' letter did not specify the costs he hoped the city could recover.

In Six Figures

However, Cmdr. Bernard C. Parks, head of the Police Department bureau that oversees its jails, indicated that those costs were in six figures.

Parks noted that the Police Department is under no legal obligation to maintain its 14 jails, which have a combined capacity of about 1,000 inmates, but does so for its own convenience, in part because having small jails at various police stations cuts down on the time officers would have to spend taking those arrested to more centrally located county jails.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World