Plans to beef up patrols fail as LASD struggles to hire deputies

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is struggling to hire all the deputies it needs and isn’t prepared to further increase patrols in unincorporated areas, officials said Tuesday.

Last year, the Board of Supervisors approved a plan to hire an additional 67 deputies to beef up patrols, at a cost of $11.6 million. Funding for another 56 deputies was mentioned as a possible second phase of the plan.

“It is not prudent for the department to move forward with the Phase II implementation due to the extraordinarily high sworn staffing vacancies,” Sheriff Jim McDonnell wrote in a report to the board.

Former county supervisor Gloria Molina had pressed for the expanded coverage after she and her staff spent weekends driving through East Los Angeles and other unincorporated neighborhoods to monitor the number of deputies on patrol and said the department came up short.

Her successor, Supervisor Hilda Solis, said Molina ended up paying for deputy overtime out of her district’s discretionary fund to get the job done.

The department reported that response times improved in the first six months of 2015 countywide when compared with the same period in 2014, even as the number of calls increased.

The response time to routine calls dropped more than 25 percent, from 49.5 minutes to 36.9 minutes.

Critical or “emergent” response times dropped 12 seconds on average countywide to 5.4 minutes. Deputies responding to “priority” calls now reach residents in unincorporated areas more than a half-minute faster, within 9.8 minutes on average.

Those times are all below the department’s goals for response times, which are 10 minutes for emergency calls, 20 minutes for priority calls and 60 minutes for routine calls, according to department spokeswoman Nicole Nishida.

Some residents have longer wait times. Routine call times to residents living in unincorporated areas of Lancaster and Palmdale, though also faster, average 70 and 80 minutes, respectively.

McDonnell acknowledged that more could be done to improve service, but not until the department fills more of its 584 deputy vacancies.

That total represents about 5 percent of the department’s total sworn personnel, Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers told the board.

Recruiters are also working to diversify the force by hiring more women and minorities, using social media and other new tactics to try and reach applicants.

It takes roughly eight months to bring a new deputy on board, from the time of application through background checks, testing and medical and psychological evaluations.

In the meantime, the department manages the workload through overtime and a pilot program utilizing part-time deputies in county courtrooms.

Supervisors Don Knabe and Hilda Solis called for the department to set a target date for full staffing and report back on possible solutions to the hiring problem, including potential “structural changes.”

The board unanimously approved that motion.

— City News Service