Amid a political feud with the Bell City Council and a faltering recall effort, the Cudahy City Council this week turned over the responsibility for law enforcement services in the city to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
Sheriff's deputies Wednesday began patrolling Cudahy streets that for 15 years have been considered the back-yard territory of the Bell Police Department.
In addition to the switch, Cudahy Councilman John Robertson has called for the formation of a public safety commission to oversee community crime abatement programs and act as a liaison between the residents and the Sheriff's Department.
Robertson denied accusations that the commission is merely an attempt to placate angry Cudahy residents who launched a recall effort in September in response to the decision to change to the Sheriff's Department in mid-contract. The contract for police services with the city of Bell was not scheduled to expire until July, 1990, but under a 90-day notice clause, either party can be released.
"This is not just tossing a bone to the community," Robertson said.
The recall effort, started in mid-September by residents who were angry that they were not allowed to vote on the contract switch, is the fifth such move against Robertson over the years, he said. City officials rejected the first set of papers filed by the Committee for Good Government because they were improperly served. Georgia Scrivner, a member of the committee, said another set of recall petitions has been submitted to the city clerk. The petitions must be certified before the group can begin collecting signatures.
The new $1.6-million contract with the Sheriff's Department calls for 17 deputies to be assigned to Cudahy full time, said Capt. Lynne Poos. With staggered shifts, Poos said, there will be three patrol cars on the streets all but four hours. For four hours, he said, there will be two cars on patrol. The additional manpower, plus anti-drug and anti-gang programs, and liability insurance carried by the county, persuaded a majority of the council that a switch to the Sheriff's Department would be best for the community, Robertson said.
The transfer in mid-contract has left some Bell city officials dumbfounded and angry. "We had been working closer together," Bell Councilman George Cole said. "That's why this was such a shock. There was not one complaint, not a letter, nothing."
Robertson maintained that the decision to switch was "not a question of friendship. It was a matter of service."
Officials from the Sheriff's Department and the Bell Police Department say Bell and Cudahy have been bickering over which city should have control over the Police Department for much of the 15 years they had been working together.
"What happened now is that Bell and Cudahy got a divorce and Bell got custody of the Police Department," one officer said.
Left without the added responsibility of serving Cudahy, the Bell City Council this week unveiled a plan for more extensive police protection in its city.
Among the changes will be more park patrols, a business watch program, increased anti-gang and anti-drug programs in the elementary schools and high schools, and special enforcement activities, such as drug stings and anti-prostitution programs.
"Cudahy put some limitations on our service," Mayor Ray Johnson said. "The bottom line is that police protection in (Bell) will be greater than it has been up to now."
Johnson said the department had 47 officers handling both cities and had budgeted for seven more. But without Cudahy and its $1.3-million annual contract, the department would have been left with too many officers and not enough money, Johnson said. By the end of next June, he said, the force will be reduced to 40 officers through attrition and transfers.
Although there will be fewer officers, Johnson said, Bell residents will be getting more protection and programs because police services will no longer be spread so thin. The number of officers per one thousand residents will jump from .9 to 1.4, he said.