Despite boisterous opposition, a split City Council decided this week to sever its contract for police services from neighboring Bell and switch back to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
After lengthy testimony from residents who lauded the current arrangement with Bell, the council voted 3 to 2 Tuesday night to end the contract within 90 days and to sign a contract with the Sheriff's Department.
Opponents sported name tag badges that read, "Hello, we want to vote," and loudly applauded pro-Bell speakers. Many picketed the hall before the meeting with signs that had slogans such as, "Change the council, not the police" and "Keep the local police in Bell, not East Los Angeles," a reference to the location of the sheriff's station that will service the 1.1-square-mile city.
Cudahy Mayor Pro Tem Joseph Graffio joined Councilmen Joseph Fregeau and John Robertson in favoring the move to the Sheriff's Department. Mayor Tom Thurman and Councilman Bill Colon were opposed. Thurman is a civilian employee of the Sheriff's Department and voted despite advice from the city attorney that participating could give the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Some Explain Their Vote
Council members made no comments before voting. However, some members said after the decision that Bell has been unresponsive to their needs for increased service and that the Sheriff's Department will offer more patrol time at a slight increase in costs.
Graffio said the Bell Police Department is shorthanded. "They can't take care of the job.
"The people really don't know what's going on behind the lines," he said. "We do."
Fregeau said he put little credence in the turnout by about 200 people to protest the proposed move. He charged that they were bused in as part of an organized effort to maintain the present contract and that many were not Cudahy residents.
Taking a conciliatory stance, Thurman said: "All of us are in agreement that the cops work their rear ends off. There's not enough of them."
There at Incorporation
The Sheriff's Department patrolled Cudahy from incorporation in 1960 until the City Council decided to sign a contract with Bell in 1974 in an effort to reduce costs. Bell has patrolled Cudahy ever since. The Police Department is under direct control of the Bell City Council.
The Sheriff's Department has proposed to staff Cudahy with two patrol cars around the clock, adding a third car on busy shifts. The sheriff's analysis states that the city is covered by a single Bell police car, with two other patrol units assigned to Bell 40% of the time.
The sheriff's contract will cost $1.6 million a year--$118,174 more than Cudahy now pays Bell police service.
Cudahy contributes 29% to the Bell police budget, but Bell City Manager John Bramble said that Cudahy receives more police service than it pays for. The council's decision will surely cause layoffs, he has said, but no plan has yet been worked out.
Bell Mayor Ray Johnson said he would not pass judgment on the Cudahy council, but added: "I think we have given them excellent service. They will have a difficult time matching it."
After the Cudahy council decision, opponents milled around and talked of launching a recall effort against the council majority or voting them out of office in municipal elections next April.
A perturbed Robert Chavez of Cudahy said after the meeting that he resents the council's attitude. "Everyone gets up there and tells (people) 'This is what we want.' And they tell us we're too ignorant," Chavez said.
"There's going to be people who get hurt, people who are going to get guns. . . . They're scared," he said. "They want security they can depend on. . . . The sheriff is spread out all over the place."
Organized Bell Support
Georgia Scriver Garman, a 42-year Cudahy resident, said she organized the outpouring of support for the police and worked to elect every member of the council. But now, she said, she will work against the majority that voted to terminate the Bell police contract.
In testimony before the council, people told how pleased they were with response time, courteous service and close proximity of the Bell police.
"I would hate to think that a fine Police Deparment like we have can be demolished because of personal vendettas against Bell and Bell councilmen," said Valerie Hansen. "The fine, courageous men we have here will lose their jobs. I hope you feel good about that!"
Richard Kowaltschuk said he fears that police service will suffer because of the distance between the sheriff's East Los Angeles station. Deputies will be tied up for an hour or more in travel and booking time with each arrest, detracting from the patrol force.
Angelo Rizzio, a retired police officer and 25-year resident, said Bell-Cudahy officers rescued him when he was trapped in a car by four pit bull dogs trying to attack him. "Those police officers have done a fantastic job," he said.
And Walter Rucker, a 44-year resident, said the Sheriff's Department had poorer response times when it used to patrol Cudahy more than 15 years ago.
"I've seen the sheriffs here. No way. You call 'em. They might be out tomorrow," he said to cheers from the audience.