Sheriff’s department hires independent consultant to manage budget deficit

FILE PHOTO: A Los Angeles County jail. Photo courtesy of LASD.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is operating at a projected $40 million budget deficit from its $3.2 billion budget for fiscal year 2017-2018, according to a report presented April 10 to the Board of Supervisors.

The department is also paying an estimated $142 million in unbudgeted overtime and exceeding salaries and employee benefits by about $82 million, Sachi Hamai, Los Angeles County Chief Executive Officer, said to the board Tuesday.

In response, the board voted to hire an independent consultant to develop strategies to recruit and retain more deputies.

The department is trying to mitigate the deficit through solutions, such as a reduction in overtime.

Vacancies in the department are the union’s biggest concern, said Derek Hsieh, executive director of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the sheriff’s deputy union. The county officially estimates around 1,100 openings that need to be filled, but Hsieh said the number of spots needed for deputies are greater.

“If they were to look at systemic overtime, it’d be closer to 1,500,” he said. “We know that because we can keep track of mandatory overtime and how many deputies are administratively reassigned from detective to other positions and forced to work in jails or patrols to meet the day to day needs of the department.”

LASD is further projected to exceed its budget by a total of $100 million with retiree health insurance by $16 milion, workers’ compensation by $36 million, separation pay by $28 million and miscellaneous earnings by $20 million, according to the report.

“We owe it to the nation, and our employees, to fund the nation’s largest sheriff’s department,” said LASD Sheriff Jim McDonnell. “In some of our areas, our budget hasn’t grown, yet costs continue to rise. We’ve reached a fiscal tipping point.”

Hsieh’s concerns center on administering mandatory overtime in lieu of people to fill vacancies.

“In the long run, what ends up happening is you fatigue and demoralize your work force,” he said. “You create other systemic problems around that and so it becomes very inefficient. Nobody in the community wants to see a fatigued deputy who’s working 16-hour shifts. Our concern is that the Sheriff’s Department has not been able to hire and retain (deputies) to meet its operational needs.”

Hsieh also said that a deficit of deputies meant a decline in the prevalence of training, as positions would go unpatrolled to train new people.

The department hosts eight academy classes per year with an average class size of 80 recruits.  Coupled with a 25 percent attrition rate in the academy, the department can hire a maximum of approximately 480 sworn personnel per year, according to a news release from Supervisor Barger’s office. However, these classes have not been enough to alleviate the staffing crisis.

Barger supported services such as adding patrol deputies to unincorporated areas and contract cities, such as Santa Clarita.

“I appreciate the work the sheriff is doing to mitigate litigation costs and workman comp costs,” she said at the meeting. “Nonetheless, these costs are rising.”

McDonnell said he was working on realigning the budget and working with the CEO and the auditor on reviewing funding sources. A review of overtime usage was already beginning, he said.

Some suggestions for solutions include expansion of outreach, an advertising and marketing campaign and a thorough examination of best practices used by other law enforcement agencies for retention, including the use of stipends and/or bonuses, according to a press release from the office.

The recruiting and retention consultant to be hired by the CEO’s office will report back in 90 days.

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