By Brian Hews
The Cerritos City Council will consider, at their regular meeting this Thursday February 9, to severely cut back the Cerritos Sheriff’s Station and Community Center and also the eliminate the Sky Knight Helicopter program which will, according to a report, increase response times and hamper other safety features provided to Cerritos residents.
Current Sheriff’s Captain Joseph Nunez and Public Safety Manager Daryl Evans will present their findings after their exhaustive study looked at several iterations of altering the operations of the station and the helicopter program.
The staff/study report was ordered by Council in October of 2016 to be presented sometime in Feb. 2017 for proper consideration.
But Councilwoman Carol Chen, at a meeting only two weeks later, demanded to look at the contract and the closing of the station and elimination of the helicopter program before the staff report was published.
Chen was subsequently slammed by Mayor Ray and Council members Pulido and Edwards for her outburst, each of them noting that one of Chen’s major campaign pledges was to never cut back on pubic safety.
City Manger Art Gallucci also admonished Chen for failing to wait for the staff report to make a proper and informed decision.
Gallucci said, “I don’t want to be argumentative but at the last meeting, the motion was made to study the budget and bring back proposed cuts in 2 months, that vote was 5-0 and we have it on tape, and that is the path we have been on until this evening.”
And Chen might now wished she would have waited for the report as the consequences of the cuts could outweigh the benefits.
The decision to eliminate Sky Knight was f airly straightforward, the program needs a 180 day notice to cancel the contract, which cost the City $21,000 per month, or $252,000 per year.
But the cancellation of the contract would force the City to use LASD, the only other option for helicopter patrol and emergency assistance, and substantially increase costs or severely cut the use of helicopter services.
LASD’s Aero Bureau costs $1,048 per hour, an analysis done by Nunez and Evans showed that if the City used LASD instead of Sky Knight for the same emergency and patrol services that occurred in August 2016, the bill to Cerritos would have been $40,823, over $19,000 more than the Sky Knight program.
Also, Lakewood would be the only city remaining utilizing the Sky Knight program and the City Manager has already indicated that the program is not sustainable with only Lakewood paying the fees.
It is worth noting that the LASD purchased two R-44 helicopters in 2015-’16 valued at $580,000 each. Then L.A. County Supervisor, and Cerritos resident Don Knabe, contributed $250,000 to the purchase. In August 2016, Cerritos, with Chen’s vote, contributed a one-time payment of $137,700 to the purchase.
It is unknown if the City can recoup the money used to purchase the helicopters.
Nunez and Evans then looked at the Cerritos Sheriff’s station structure and proposed additional cost cutting measures.
One proposal eliminates two supplemental “deputy-service-units” (DSU’s) without “significantly impacting the station’s policing model.” The cumulative savings for both motorcycle positions is $573,926.
But the eliminations come with consequences.
There were 851 traffic collisions reported in the City during 2016. Eliminating the DSU’s from the station’s traffic enforcement capabilities will negatively impact traffic safety.
Response times to traffic collisions will increase while traffic collision mitigation efforts will decrease.
Further, the DSU’s wrote 2,678 hazardous citations in 2016 generating $180,784 in revenue from court fines.
Another option offered in the report will convert the Cerritos Station into a “community station” saving $2,827,000 annually.
Currently, Cerritos pays nearly $13 million annually for a “full service” sheriff’s station.
The station is staffed with 72 positions including one Captain, four Lieutenants, eleven Sergeants, twenty-six field deputies, five Watch Deputies, three Traffic Motor Officers, eight Directed Patrol Deputies, five Detectives, two Custody Assistants, nine Law Enforcement Technicians, one Office Assistant, one Captain’s Secretary, one Supervising Station Clerk, and five Station Clerks.
Converting to a community station would eliminate 27 positions including the Captain, two Lieutenants, seven Sergeants, and five field deputies.
Once again, as with the elimination of the DSU’s, there are serious consequences to consider in converting to a community station.
The command and control will switch to the Lakewood station and all 9-1-1 calls will be routed there for response.
The Lakewood station is 5.1 miles from the center of Cerritos, a drive that takes twenty-one minutes on surface streets during periods of normal commuter traffic.
The Cerritos jail will close which will directly increase response times in the City.
The 2016 average response times for Cerritos deputies was 3.6 minutes for “Emergency response,” 6.8 minutes for “Priority response,” and 16.2 minutes for “Routine response.”
By way of comparison, the average response times for the City of Lakewood are: Emergency – 3.4 minutes, Priority 8.0 minutes, and Routine 38.2 minutes.
Deputies making arrests in Cerritos will have to transport all suspects to the Lakewood Station, a process that takes on average up to 90 minutes depending on the type of charge.
The community station will only receive routine service calls 10-hours-per-day. Calls received after the normally scheduled time will be forwarded to Lakewood Station.
The Lakewood Station dispatches calls based on priority and routine calls are processed in the order received.
The conversion to a community station will no doubt leave Cerritos with less patrol coverage and increased response times.
Additionally, even though it is called a community station, the location will lack a “community feel.” Residents wishing to speak with detectives, supervisors, or conduct other public safety related business would now have to drive to the Lakewood station.
Finally converting the Cerritos station would be irreversible under the current LASD contract cities policing model.
Similar to the SkyKnight program, the LASD would need 180 days notice. “Time is required to reassign personnel, develop new protocols, and modify radio/telephone communications equipment.”
HMG-CN reached out to Cerritos Mayor George Ray, Mayor pro tem Naresh Solanki, and Councilpersons Mark Pulido, Jim Edwards and Carol Chen.
Mayor Ray said, “I do not feel comfortable commenting prior to the item going before the city council.”
Councilwoman Carol Chen echoed Ray’s statement saying, “I don’t comment on agenda items coming before the council meeting.”
Councilman Pulido did not mince words saying, “I strongly oppose these cuts to the Cerritos Sheriff’s Station and Sky Knight. These are horrible cuts that will compromise the public safety of our community, our seniors, our families and our children.”
Solanki and Edwards did not comment at the time of publication.
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