Response to Concerns about Jail Staffing

October 28, 2010

Los Angeles:  Today, a coalition of Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) detention officers and their representatives held a news conference to publicize concerns about a plan to use sworn officers to augment the staffing of the new Metropolitan Detention Center.

In March 2002, the people of Los Angeles voted to fund Proposition Q, the Citywide Public Safety Bond Measure that funded the construction of 11 new police facilities and the renovation of 12 existing police stations.  The $85 million Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) remains the only new Proposition Q facility yet to be fully occupied.

In 2003, after years of funding-related delays, the Los Angeles City Council approved the use of Municipal Improvement Corporation of Los Angeles Bonds to fund the replacement of the nearly half-century-old Parker Center.  In late 2009, police personnel assigned to Parker Center and other leased facilities began to occupy the new Police Administration Building.  The most recent personnel move from Parker Center occurred this summer when Property Division personnel occupied a portion of the MDC.  Prior to their move and for many years, Property Division personnel regularly endured leaks of raw sewage due to intentional blocking of jail plumbing by prisoners just one floor overhead.  The plumbing overflow in the jail necessitated an immediate move.

Despite very real health and safety concerns, Parker Center continues to house about 160 employees assigned to Scientific Investigation Division (SID) and 75 detention officers along with 25 sworn personnel assigned to the Metropolitan Jail.  Applicable fire codes dictate that Parker Center must be vacated entirely by January of 2012.  Plans are underway to retrofit space at the Piper Technical Center, 555 Ramirez Street, to house all SID personnel currently assigned to Parker Center.

Staffing shortages in the Detention officer ranks have prevented the opening of the MDC, which has been certified for occupancy since late 2009.  Despite a concerted effort to increase jail staffing, unprecedented budgetary constraints continue to prevent the hiring and training of new detention officers.  Attrition, early retirement incentives, and mandatory furloughs have reduced the detention officer staffing to critically low levels.  Jail staffing has been discussed in the public sessions of the Board of Police Commissioners and the Public Safety Committee of the Los Angeles City Council.  The issue has also been the topic of discussion between the LAPD and the involved employee unions.  All efforts to gain a detention-officer exemption for hiring freezes and mandatory furloughs have failed to win necessary support.  These realities, combined with the fact that the modern design of the MDC is more labor intensive than the old cell-block style jail, necessitated an executive decision by LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.  

Even if there were no new jail to staff, at the current rate of attrition and with a civilian hiring freeze and furloughs, using sworn officers to augment DOs would have become necessary by April of 2011.  Chief Beck said “it is unacceptable to me to have LAPD personnel working in a facility that at best has been described as dilapidated and dangerous, while a modern facility next door remains in mothballs.”

Failure to train jail personnel could leave the City in violation of California minimum jail standards.  Jail experts studied every conceivable option including opening only portions of the MDC and closing smaller station-based jails.  Full or partial privatization of the MDC was also discussed, but was not considered a viable option.  Cost recovery for housing out-of-jurisdiction prisoners was considered, but dismissed as not currently feasible.

Beginning in early November, approximately 30 non-probationary LAPD officers will be selected to attend an 80-hour detention officer course.  The officers will then return to their patrol assignments to complete their standard LAPD 28-day deployment period, after which they will be transferred to Jail Division.

This training cycle will be repeated with additional non-probationary LAPD officers for three consecutive 28-day deployment periods, at which time it is anticipated that there will be an adequate number of sworn officers (83 police officers and 5 sergeants) to augment the current detention officer staffing.    On a strategically selected day in February, all prisoners will be transferred to the MDC and the old jail will be decommissioned.