Every five years, the Los Angeles County sheriff meets the California Contract Cities Association at the negotiating table to talk about policing costs.
This year is one of those years when I’ll sit across the table from Sheriff Robert Luna along with numerous contract city managers to present the perspectives of the 42 L.A. County cities that contract with the county Sheriff’s Department for their police force.
For each of the 42 cities, their contract with the Sheriff’s Department is the largest portion of their budget. That annual financial reality places even more importance on these negotiations. What we decide at the table this year will shape a lot of on-the-ground public safety conditions in a majority of communities across our county.
While most leaders in the cities served by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department are happy with the policing services provided, especially since Sheriff Luna took charge, city leaders continue to express concern over the rising costs of this vital municipal service. Costs rise, for example, when a sheriff’s deputy takes an action that leads to a multi-million-dollar lawsuit or settlement.
Efforts are being made by the Sheriff’s Department to uphold professionalism and minimize troubling situations, thus preventing costly actions by deputies, some of whom may have concerning records. Contract cities, which warmly embrace deputies into their neighborhoods, can contribute significantly to these preventive measures. Moreover, these cities have a compelling financial incentive to do so. By actively avoiding lawsuits or settlements, they can effectively curb the escalating costs associated with policing services provided by the Sheriff’s Department.
Nevertheless, the current system lacks involvement of city residents and their elected representatives in decisions that could help avert expensive liabilities arising from unfortunate policing mistakes in the field. These residents maintain regular interactions with deputies, lieutenants and captains stationed in their communities, yet their perspectives and input are not taken into account. By fostering a more inclusive approach, where the voices of the community are heard, the Sheriff’s Department can enhance its commitment to professionalism and ensure a reduction in troubling situations.
Cities don’t have a say in the department personnel assigned to their communities. Contract cities don’t get a say in who is fired or hired. Cities can’t get involved in decisions related to managing a risky deputy, whose behavior could one day cost the Sheriff’s Department millions. That’s a cost that ultimately gets passed on to contract cities, reducing a city’s ability to pay for the multitude of other necessary quality-of-life programs cities provide.
As negotiations begin this summer, we look forward to open conversations with the sheriff about implementing new strategies that ensure cities can influence decisions about the deputies cities welcome into their communities. The sheriff’s candor as we’ve ramped up to commence this process has been refreshing. We’re confident that Sheriff Luna, as a former police chief, understands the challenges of city governments and the importance of placing cities on a fair footing with the Sheriff’s Department.
The sheriff’s sincerity and understanding in this negotiation will go a long way to empower cities that contract with the Sheriff’s Department. With such an important task at hand, it is imperative we look at successful alternative contract models as options. We urge Sheriff Luna to keep an open mind as we work to improve our longstanding relationships with the department.
Marcel Rodarte, executive director of the California Contract Cities Association, is a former Norwalk mayor and council member. The city of Santa Clarita is a member of the Contract Cities Association.