For nearly a decade, the jail in San Pedro stood vacant and shuttered. Television crews filmed inside on occasion, and police cadets asked to use it on Halloween. But it had no real inmates.
Sgt. Catherine Plows of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Harbor Division often walked through the jail — which is connected to the station – to flush toilets and punch some buttons, trying to keep it alive.
“We watched it for 10 years, just rotting,” she said. “It sat very tomb-like for a long time.”
Without the jail, her division’s officers would drive 15 ½ miles on the crowded 110 Freeway to book suspects in South L.A.’s 77th Street Regional Jail. The trips took hours from time that could be otherwise spent patrolling or responding to radio calls.
But not for much longer. After years of lobbying by community members, the 16,250-square-foot facility will open Feb. 16.
“This was demanded by the residents in the Harbor area community,” said L.A. City Councilman Joe Buscaino, a former police officer in the Harbor Division whose district includes the jail. “We wanted to make sure the street cops are in our area and not being pulled away every time they have to make an arrest.”
The facility, which accommodates men and women, will serve San Pedro, Harbor City, Harbor Gateway and Wilmington. The Los Angeles Port Police and the California Highway Patrol can also book arrestees there.
It is one of 10 LAPD jails where inmates are held up to 96 hours before being handed over to the Sheriff’s Department. Four other jails that were shuttered in the aftermath of the recession remain temporarily closed. Reopening them would cost about $6.2 million, according to a report sent to the city’s Budget and Finance Committee last May.
The chairwoman of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, Monica Rodriguez, said that opening the Harbor jail aligns with LAPD Chief Michel Moore’s prioritization of field work. One of her priorities for the next budgetary cycle will be reopening the other jails.
“It’s huge whenever you open a jail,” said Capt. Rolando Solano, who oversees the department’s jail operations. “This should increase the availability of patrol officers for calls for service.”
The jail opened in 2009 but was closed months later due to lack of detention personnel, Plows said. The Foothill, Southwest, Devonshire and Wilshire area jails also closed between 2010 and 2012.
Plows said it takes an officer two to four hours to book a suspect in the 77th Street jail. A booking van has provided some relief, but it operates only Thursday through Saturday evenings.
In February 2016, former Police Chief Charlie Beck stood before hundreds of residents at a forum in San Pedro and promised to reopen the jail within three years. Community members held a rally in 2017 outside the police station and continued to lobby after Beck retired the next year.
With Moore, they got their wish. The $2.8 million, including health benefits and pensions, approved by the mayor covers 27 detention officers, among other costs. The jail will be able to hold 45 male and 20 female inmates.
It’s had to undergo upgrades. The cell doors are now all automated and can be opened by a jailer at the command center. Cameras have been added to cells too — a standard that hadn’t been required previously.
“To get it to come back was a huge lift,” Mona Sutton, a San Pedro resident who rallied for the jail, said at a commission meeting on Thursday night, when the opening was announced. “It means we were heard.”