With Local Government Revenues Dwindling, Cost Of Law Enforcement Services Sharply Escalating

Fourteen of San Bernardino County’s 24 municipalities do not have their own police department but rather contract with the county sheriff’s department for the provision of law enforcement services. In all but two of those cases, those cities or towns simply maintained the sheriff’s department as their police service provider when they were incorporated as municipal entities, and they have maintained their contractual relationship with the sheriff’ department because the expense of developing and perpetuating an in-house police department would be more expensive than the status quo. In Needles and Adelanto, cities which at one time had their own police departments, a consideration in dissolving their police departments was the financial savings those cities realized by handing off the responsibility for policing to the sheriff’s department.
For these contract cities, there is at least a two-fold derivation in savings, the first being the economy of scale the sheriff’s department is able to secure as a consequence of its size, which involves 3,700 employees, over 2,600 of whom are sworn officers. Beyond the savings, ranging from marginal to more substantial, when it comes to the employment of personnel, the department is outfitted with equipment and facilities, including its scientific investigations division, which relieves contract cities and towns of the substantial expense of having to replicate. Historically, the sheriff’s department has supplied law enforcement services to the county’s contract cities for a price tag that is approximately 85 to 90 percent of the cost of what it would run those cities to field police departments of their own with a comparable number of officers.
Generally, the county’s towns and cities enter into a contract with the sheriff’s department for a fixed number of years at a set rate based upon the number of deputies and other department personnel to be employed in that locale. Upon the expiration of a contract and the inking of a contract to extend the law enforcement service, the county has traditionally increased its contract amounts with those cities and towns it serves at a rate close to a percentage reflected in the consumer price index or the commonly accepted rate of inflation over the intervening years since the contract was last extended. Often, a new contract will call for upping the number of patrol deputies over the number that were employed in that jurisdiction during the just-ending contract period. It is common, as well, for adjustments or amendments to those contracts to be made to the contracts to pay for an increase in the number of deputies assigned to that city or town for the duration of the contract then in place.
Given that there are fourteen separate municipal contracts in San Benradino County – between the county and Chino Hills, Rancho Cucamonga, Adelanto, Victorville, Hesperia, Apple Valley, Grand Terrace, Highland, Loma Linda, Big Bear, Yucaipa, Yucca Valley, Twentynine Palms and Needles – there is rarely a year when one or more contracts are not on track to expire and be renewed, with negotiations ongoing at the same time between the county and the cities where the current contracts are set to expire the following year.
With the most recent crop of renewals and the negotiations ongoing for renewals in the year or two ahead, the county has proven hard-nosed, insisting on a steep contract increase in the realm of 10 percent to 10.5 percent, a cost escalation needed, the county claims, to cover the soaring price of salaries, pensions and benefits the county has committed to paying deputies, investigators, sergeants, lieutenants and captains over the next several years as a consequence of the employment contracts it had entered into with their labor bargaining units.
All 14 of the county’s municpalities contracting with the sheriff’s department, like the county’s other 12 cities, are experiencing severe income restrictions as a consequence of the drawdown in sales tax and the clearance that homeowners have been granted in postponing the payment of their property tax.  In all of those cities that were not flush with cash reserves when they headed into the coronavirus crisis, this is imposing a hardship.
Grand Terrace Assistant City Manager Cynthia Fortune on May 6 said tht in upcoming 2020-21, “The city is not requesting any service level reductions in public safety. Rather, we are requesting a delay in the increase to the sheriff’s contract.” Fortune said the city hoped to suspend the escalation in the rate the city will pay for the service until next year. “Hopefully [Fiscal Year] 2021-22 will be a much better year that we will be able to settle this issue,” Fortune said.
Also on May 6, Grand Terrace City Manager G. Harold Duffy said, “I did send the sheriff a letter indicating we would like to have some relief for a deferral of this because of COVID-19. He [Sheriff John McMahon] did speak with the City Manager of Rancho Cucamonga [John Gillison]. The city managers were all meeting together in conference calls. We are sharing the same issue. So, the sheriff did commit to presenting this policy issue to the board of supervisors, and they will have to address the issue.”
At its April 14 meeting, the Apple Valley Town Council renewed the town’s contract with the sheriff’s department, what was in actuality the 29th amendment the town has made to a contract with the sheriff’s department first entered into in 1994. That amendment committed the town to a 10.3 percent increase that will see the $14 million the town is paying in the current 2019-20 budget zoom to $15.5 million in 2020-21, which runs from July 1 of this year through June 30, 2021. It was noted that contract increase does not reflect the addition of deputies.
Mayor Scott Nassif questioned the increase in costs for the contract with no change in staffing levels.
Town Manager Doug Robertson said the contract, with what he called its “10 percent” increase, maintained the same level of service as the previous year.   Nassif expressed concern over the large increase which he said equates to almost 50% of the town’s general fund. This presents certain fiscal challenges to the town he said.
In their discussion, the town council members indicated they would have no choice but find the funding necessary to cover the increase, despite the impact on the town’s general fund. On a motion by Nassif, seconded by Council Member Art Bishop, the town council voted to approve the contract amendment for the period of July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021 and authorize the Mayor or his designee to process all documents required for the agreement. The motion carried 5-to-0, with Nassiff, Bishop and council members Larry Cusack, Kari Leon and Curt Emick in unanimous agreement.
-Mark Gutglueck

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