Board orders audit of sheriff’s budget

January 23, 2013 

Sheriff patrols have been reduced throughout the county's unincorporated areas. Photo/Navymailman via Flickr

After a testy public confrontation with Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca over patrol cutbacks, the Board of Supervisors unanimously called for a “forensic audit” of his department’s $2.8 billion budget.

The Tuesday action came after several supervisors accused the sheriff of potentially jeopardizing public safety by reducing the number of patrol cars in the county’s unincorporated areas to save money on rising overtime costs.

Baca insisted that, with crime rates down substantially, there was little danger that fewer patrol cars would lead to higher public risks. He said he had no choice after being hit with multimillion dollar budget cuts for three consecutive years and unacceptable overtime costs in recent weeks.

“We have the largest county in the United States, and the safest county in the United States,” Baca said, adding: “I just believe we need to account to [the public] as to what we’re doing and what are the true facts regarding their safety.”

Although the Board of Supervisors sets the department’s budget, the sheriff has wide discretion over how it’s actually spent.

During Tuesday’s Board hearing, Baca faced the stiffest criticism from Supervisor Gloria Molina, whose district includes the unincorporated community of East Los Angeles, among others.

“I’d like to cut your budget in other places and I’m going to try and find a way,” warned Molina, who joined with colleague Don Knabe in introducing the motion for an independent audit of the department’s budget.

Both Molina and Knabe suggested that Baca was undermining an “equity policy” ensuring that unincorporated areas get the same level of services as cities that contract with the department. Instead, Molina said, costs are being reduced in unincorporated areas to subsidize other department functions and responsibilities.

“You are stealing,” she told the sheriff, who responded: “Stealing is over the top, supervisor.”

“I want you to let me finish,” Molina interrupted.

“Not when you say something that is so outrageous that it’s not worth the dignity of your office,” the sheriff said.

Later, Molina apologized for the “stealing” characterization, and Baca thanked her for being a “stellar supporter” of the department. The sheriff also assured the board that he was already taking measures to ensure that patrol levels would not be reduced for long, including in the unincorporated area of Topanga Canyon in Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s district. The vast majority of his district is patrolled by the Los Angeles Police Department.

No date was set for completion of the independent audit, which will be arranged through the county’s Auditor-Controller’s Office.   

 Posted 1/23/13

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