The brand new, state-of-the-art Metropolitan Detention Center remains empty because the cash-strapped Los Angeles Police Department lacks the funds to staff it.
The $70 million, 172,000-square-foot, five-floor structure jail is one of the largest of its kind, but because of the city's budget problems, the LAPD can't hire enough jailers to operate it, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.
The LAPD has 10 jails, although seven are just a few cells inside police stations. The others are larger regional facilities in the San Fernando Valley, South Los Angeles and downtown. About 120,000 people are arrested and jailed each year in Los Angeles.
The department wants to close its outdated and overcrowded downtown jail, but when construction on the new jail began four years ago, officials didn't expect the city to be facing a half-billion-dollar budget deficit and hiring freeze that extended to the LAPD.
Police officials said there are no easy ways to staff the new jail.
"These are going to be difficult times," LAPD Cmdr. Scott Kroeber said last week at a briefing before the City Council's Public Safety Committee.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and his command staff want the new facility to open by January, but to do that, they said the department would have to close most of its other jails, freeing up 56 of the 100 additional jailers needed to run the new facility. The department would still have to hire 44 more jail staff, and the only way that can happen is for the City Council to make an exception to its current hiring freeze.
The proposed closures would result in the loss of about 220 beds, which is about 20 percent of the department's total capacity, according to The Times.
"It's a lose-lose policy all around," Councilman Grieg Smith, who heads the Public Safety Committee, said during the briefing.
Although the LAPD headquarters moved into a new downtown facility last year, it had to keep the old jail open at its old headquarters at Parker Center, which is outdated, overcrowded and in need of repairs.
Built for 151 beds, it currently has 440, which are often filled on weekends.
Rob Saltzman, who is on the Los Angeles Police Commission, called the current jail situation "dire."
"We're potentially waiting for something significantly bad to happen if we don't solve the problem. And that's very clear to anyone who takes a look at it," Saltzman said at the committee meeting.
Taxpayers approved $600 million in bonds to fund improvements to police buildings in 2002, and some of the money was used to build the new jail.
At the City Council Public Safety Committee's meeting, police officials suggested two other options for opening the new jail that include closing more existing jails, which would cut the number of needed emplyess but cause officers to spend more time transporting prisoners.
The committee members instructed the city's chief administrative officer to come up with a plan to open the jail by the end of June, after which the committee is to decide whether to approve the plan and send it on to the full council for a vote.