REGION: Cities study creating new police department

A group of 13 Riverside County cities are looking into whether they can save money on law enforcement costs by pooling their resources to form their own police force.

Today, the cities all contract with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department but have become increasingly concerned about the rising costs of police protection. In May, the county approved a 7 percent increase in the contract and expects similar increases of 7 to 10 percent in the next couple of years. The Sheriff’s rate rose by about 5 percent from the 2012-13 to the 2013-14 fiscal year.

“Some of these costs are really onerous and scaring us all on the local city side,” Lake Elsinore City Manager Grant Yates said.

Police protection already takes up the largest share of the cities’ budgets and the costs are growing faster than their property and sales tax revenues, officials say.

The proposal is at an early stage. The cities are looking for a firm to do a feasibility study on creating a joint powers authority that would manage police protection. All but four of the cities that now hire the sheriff’s are part of the group exploring the new agency.

Moreno Valley, the largest contract city, began organizing meetings of the cities last year to see if they might be able to slow rising police costs by working as a group. The joint powers authority idea arose during a July summit of mayors in Temecula, Moreno Valley City Manager Michelle Dawson said.

“It’s just an opportunity to explore one potential avenue of saving money,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s feasible. None of us do. That’s why we need an expert consultant on board to let us know if it’s even possible.”

Cities that could be part of the joint agency are Canyon Lake, Calimesa, Coachella, Eastvale, Indian Wells, Jurupa Valley, Lake Elsinore, La Quinta, Menifee, Moreno Valley, Perris, San Jacinto and Temecula. The cities of Norco, Wildomar, Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage also contract with the department but are not part of the effort.

Sheriff Stan Sniff has said the rate increases are mainly due to higher labor costs. In 2012, supervisors approved new contracts with labor unions, including the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association, that traded pay hikes for an overhaul of the public employee pension system.

A Sheriff’s department statement from Legislative Assistant Jessica Gore said that a joint powers authority would add another layer of bureacracy and costs and has been rejected by other small areas that considered it.

Sniff and former sheriffs have long welcomed such studies by cities who want to know the “cost-effectiveness” of the department’s police protection, the statement said.

“Each of those expensive studies have universally validated the cost-effectiveness of our police services contracts over these many decades,” the statement said.


Talk of such an alliance comes as the county has begun a top-to-bottom audit of public safety expenses, including the Sheriff’s, district attorney and probation departments.

County supervisors authorized the audit earlier this year after complaints from cities about contract rates. Public safety spending also is taking a bigger share of the county’s discretionary funds.

Sniff resisted the audit, calling it unnecessary and warning it could expose sensitive information.