LAPD Chief Beck defends plan to use sworn officers to staff new jail

Chief Charlie Beck today defended the LAPD's plan to take nearly 90 officers off the street to staff a new jail that has been unused for more than a year.

The reassignments will allow the new Metropolitan Detention Center to open by February, and for the old jail at the former Parker Center police headquarters to be closed.

"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,'' Beck said in a police statement.

Beginning in early November, about 30 non-probationary LAPD officers will be chosen to attend an 80-hour detention officer course, Beck said. 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 the Jail Division.

The training cycle will be repeated for three consecutive 28-day deployment periods. At that time, police believe there will be enough sworn personnel -- 83 officers and five sergeants -- to augment the current detention officer staffing.

In February, all prisoners will be transferred to the new jail, and the old jail will be decommissioned, Beck said.

"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 (detention officers) would have become necessary by April of 2011,'' police said in a statement.

"Failure to train jail personnel could leave the city in violation of California minimum jail standards,'' police said.

"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,'' police said.

The $74-million, 172,000-square-foot Metropolitan Detention Center requires more law enforcement officers to operate than the aging structure it will replace, and a citywide hiring freeze has prevented the department from hiring more jailers and forced it to keep the new jail closed since it was completed in May 2009.

The LAPD has been under increasing pressure to close the old jail because of safety and health risks. So police officials came up with a plan to free up about 100 more jailers needed to run the new facility by closing some small satellite jails in police stations.

While the city's fiscal woes deepened, the department devised a plan to use officers as jailers, Assistant Chief Michel Moore said. The department still plans to close four of its small jails.

Taking officers off the street to guard jail inmates may not be popular with the public, said Paul M. Weber, president of Police Protective League, the union representing rank-and-file officers.

"When these officers were hired, the public expected they would be out on the streets protecting them, not stuck in a jail baby-sitting prisoners,'' Weber told the Los Angeles Times. "That is not why taxpayers spent a sizable amount of money to recruit and train these men and women.''

Alan Skobin, a member of the Police Commission, which oversees the LAPD, agreed. But Skobin, like others, sees no other alternative.

"We are playing the hand we were dealt,'' Skobin said. "We're operating out of a condemned, aging building, while we have one across the street built to modern standards that has been sitting empty for over a year.
The last ones who want to use officers in the jail are the commission and the chief of police, but there are no viable choices.''