Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva on Monday announced plans to close two patrol stations and the parks bureau and to reduce homeless outreach services to help shrink his department’s budget deficit.
At a morning news briefing, Villanueva indicated that command functions at the Marina del Rey and Altadena stations will be consolidated into the South L.A. and Crescenta Valley stations, respectively. Deputies will continue to patrol those areas, he said, but a couple of dozen administrative positions, including captain and field training officer, will be eliminated, and those staff members will be assigned to fill vacancies elsewhere.
Later Monday, however, Villanueva left open the possibility that the stations could remain open in some capacity.
“Line staff only will remain if feasible,” he said in a text message. It was unclear under that scenario the number of personnel who would remain and the level of community services possible.
Villanueva said the station closures would take effect July 1 and save more than $12 million annually. Meanwhile, losing the county parks and community partnership bureaus will save more than $62 million a year, he said. County parks will be patrolled by the nearest sheriff’s station.
“Of course, the only issue is then from the local communities; if you live in those, is it a reduction in service?” Villanueva said at the news briefing. “Well, the deputies in patrol will remain the same; they’ll still be out there. However, it’s the administrative staff that will be encumbered to basically tighten the belts on this.”
Villanueva sent a memo to the staff explaining the proposed cuts.
“Due to the fact the Board of Supervisors and chief executive officer have intentionally failed to provide a budget which meets the true needs of the department, we are forced to make deep cuts in order to continue providing the basic functions of public safety to our communities,” he said in the memo, obtained by The Times.
The two unions that represent Sheriff’s Department personnel said they learned of the proposed cuts during Monday’s briefing.
Tab Rhodes, president of the Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Assn., which represents sergeants, lieutenants and others in the Sheriff’s Department, said the closures could “significantly impact” his membership and that he plans further discussions with the agency.
Ron Hernandez, president of the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, said the “massive cuts to specialized units and patrol stations came without warning. This is being done with no input from ALADS or the communities we serve.”
“The shuttering of specialized units and the two sheriffs’ stations will result in the displacement of scores of ALADS members,” he added. “Many of the displaced will be ordered from these critical units, leaving behind investment in specialized training and years of experience. Some may choose to retire, worsening the shortage.”
Villanueva complained that the Board of Supervisors has long underfunded the Sheriff’s Department. He said the board recommended a $3.5-billion budget as he sought $3.9 billion to operate the department.
“When you underfund the Sheriff’s Department budget, it does a lot of things — none of them good,” he said.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger said in a statement that the county’s Chief Executive Office had offered suggestions on cuts that would not affect public safety or community service, such as limiting overtime or scaling back academy classes from 12 to four.
“I am disappointed that instead of more sensible adjustments, he is responding by eliminating sheriff’s stations, including in Altadena, an unincorporated area that I represent,” she said. Barger encouraged Villanueva to work with the office to identify alternative cuts.
Villanueva said the Sheriff’s Department will reduce the number of academy classes from 12 to eight, which he said would result in a cost savings of nearly $22 million. He argued that offering just four academy classes would have shrunk the number of sworn personnel by 160 deputies a year at a time when the department is trying to fill 712 deputy, sergeant and lieutenant vacancies.
“By reducing that even further, all that does is aggravate the overtime, which spirals out of control,” he said.
Villanueva said 10 positions are being cut from the Homeless Outreach Services Team, which helps connect people experiencing homelessness with shelters and other services. The team will be reduced to six people, for a cost savings of $1.4 million, he said.
In March, a week before stay-at-home orders were announced in L.A. County, the outreach team spent time handing out toiletries and educating people living along the San Gabriel River Trail about how to protect themselves from COVID-19. They advised people not to share cigarettes or utensils, to sleep head-to-toe if sharing a tent and to stay six feet apart from one another.
Sachi Hamai, the county’s chief executive officer, said in a statement that every county department is submitting “plans for painful cuts” because of economic challenges triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’d like to encourage the sheriff to continue working on his plans in a way that emphasizes public safety for all residents, including those in the unincorporated communities,” she said. “We expect to have a clearer picture of our budget and the steps we will need to balance it by the time we return to the Board of Supervisors at the end of June.”