VIEWPOINT: Residents' thoughts about council vote on sheriff's contract cost estimate
The collapse of Claremont PD
As a career prosecutor with more than 30 years of experience working with Claremont PD and dozens of other police agencies, I am very concerned about the revelation at the January 30 special council meeting that Chief Shelly Vander Veen has not been able to identify a single qualified candidate to replace eight officers who are leaving the force.
No police department can afford to lose 20 percent of its officers without putting public safety at risk. In fact, it is not clear how much longer the department can even continue to exist.
The Claremont Police Officers Association (CPOA), which has been working without a contract for almost two years, posted a YouTube video to warn us that the department is about to collapse and that 60 percent of the force is actively exploring opportunities with other agencies.
We cannot blame the officers for leaving. As the chief’s fruitless candidate search proves, qualified police officers have better options elsewhere. As a consequence of Claremont’s growing structural deficit, the recent loss of more that $12 million on the failed water takeover attempt, and our $60 million unfunded pension liability, the city can no longer afford to pay our officers a competitive salary.
We can blame the police chief, the city manager, the city council, and the members of the police commission for ignoring this crisis. They have known for a long time that Claremont PD cannot hire enough new officers to replace its losses; but rather than look for viable alternatives, they wasted two years trying to build a $25 million station for a police department that no one is willing to come work for.
Now that Claremont PD is on the verge of collapse, the council is finally getting around to evaluating the costs of contracting with the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department—as 40 other cities already do.
Based on the experience of these cities, Claremont can maintain our current level of law enforcement services while saving millions of dollars per year.
By the chief’s own admission, Claremont PD is dying by attrition—and there is nothing we can do to save it. The only question is whether the council will be responsible enough to contract with the sheriff’s department before our own police department falls apart completely.
Too great a risk
A couple of days after my previous letter to the COURIER giving reasons why not to trust the sheriff’s department, the Los Angeles Times reported that the department is being sued because “LASD is the only agency in the state of California to deny the ACLU’s request in its entirety.”
The records request in questions was made pursuant to AB1421, “that requires California law enforcement agencies to disclose previously confidential records related to police misconduct and serious uses of force.”
Shortly thereafter, I received the December issue of a newsletter published by the independent Retired Employees of LA County (RELAC), to which I belong. As usual, it contained a page of county news. Here are the items about the sheriff’s department:
• “Reacting to a $63 million deficit in the sheriff’s department budget, supervisors put a hiring freeze on non-critical civilian personnel, asked for a repayment plan and controls to keep future spending within the adopted budget.”
• “Sheriff’s Deputy Andrew Rodriguez was awarded $8.1 million by a jury that found he was subjected to ‘severe and pervasive’ harassment after protesting illegal orders while a trainee assigned to the Industry station.”
• “Eight deputies sued the county, saying they were routinely harassed by a clique of East Los Angeles sheriff’s station deputies, who wear a tattoo of a skeleton with a sombrero.”
• “A lawsuit filed by three Muslims accuses the department of engaging in a systematic effort to disfavor Muslim inmates and their spiritual needs over those of other inmates of other faiths.”
• “A Superior Court judge ordered Sheriff Villanueva to remove a deputy he had reinstated who had been fired before he was elected for violating department policies and lying.”
• “A criminal investigation is being conducted by the sheriff’s department to determine if its chief watchdog, the Office of the Inspector General, unlawfully obtained internal records.”
On December 30, the LA Times published an editorial with the subhead: “The LA County sheriff has spent his first year trying to dismantle historic accountability measures.”
I recently received the Jan/Feb issue of the RELAC newsletter, with more about the sheriff:
• “A proposed ballot measure is being discussed by a coalition of community groups that would allow the board of supervisors to remove the sheriff for violations of public trust.”
• “The Civilian Oversight Commission asked the Office of the Inspector General to investigate claims by relatives of family members killed by sheriff's deputies that say they have been harassed by officers following the deaths.”
I have had two sailboat partners who were sheriff's deputies. The sergeant brought prostitutes to the boat overnight to pay him off for not charging them; I discovered it when I arrived at the boat too early in the morning, and the other deputy confirmed that it was happening.
The other deputy was a lieutenant, who bragged openly about beating up Mexican kids; he was subsequently promoted to captain—of the San Dimas station! He has since retired and moved outside of the county.
Do we really want to entrust our safety to this rogue outfit? Eventually it may be reformed, but it may take a generation before the bad apples are gone—fired, convicted or retired—even if the current sheriff is soon removed.
In addition, with a major budget deficit, the sheriff may increase costs to contract cities. Do we really want to be a captive customer? If we give up our own police, we will be. Instead of being asked by a thug “Your money or your life,” we’ll be risking both our money and our lives.
Our city council will consider whether to ask the sheriff for an estimate at the Tuesday, February 11 meeting.