SIERRA MADRE, CA – To provide relief to the half-staffed city police department, the Sierra Madre City Council approved a contract with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department to provide nighttime patrol services at Tuesday’s council meeting.
The Sierra Madre Police Department has experienced a significant loss in officers over the last several months, with nine out of 20 full-time officers leaving the force; a few retired while several sought better pay and security in other cities.
Sierra Madre Police Chief Larry Giannone has said they are aggressively recruiting to restore the department to its full force, but the process to hire and train officers is long. Meanwhile, the remaining officers are working longer shifts to continue proper service to the city 24 hours a day.
The city reached out to neighboring cities hoping they could help out with temporary patrol services from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. seven days a week, and came close to a contract with the Arcadia Police Department. But Arcadia and several nearby cities said they could not offer help due to low staff levels and recent spikes in burglaries and other crimes in their own cities, prompting Sierra Madre to turn to the Sheriff’s for help.
The Sheriff’s will begin offering the services from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. starting this Sunday until June 30 at a cost of $400,000. Then the council will decide whether or not a contract extension is necessary, at a 4 percent rate increase starting in July.
“I thank the Sheriffs for stepping in and providing the services that we need in the short term, but I do think it’s concerning that if we were to have to go past June, we are already looking at a 4 percent increase,” said councilman John Harabedian. “I’m hoping that it truly is just a temporary solution.”
Despite about $170,000 in savings from unfilled officer positions, the city still needs to use general fund reserves for the contract.
The agreement states that two Sheriff’s officers from the Temple City station will be dedicated to the city and stay within city boundaries during the 12-hour nighttime shift, unless they have to book a prisoner or perform other duties at the Temple City station.
The police department said they have struggled to recruit full-time officers due to lower salaries than other cities and concerns over job security stemming from its contracting talks with the Sheriff’s. Recruiting has also suffered from concerns over the decreased Utility Users Tax, which city staff believes could force department cuts, including police, if voters don’t restore it in the April election.
The Sheriff’s Department has also proposed to contract with the city full time, though no further discussions have taken place. Those proposals will face a 4 percent increase after July. One of the proposals could have saved the city about $800,000, though it would have required shuttering the city’s police station.
Residents are split on whether the city should contract with the Sheriff’s full time.
“I am all for the temporary nighttime patrols, that makes perfect sense,” said Joan McGuire. “But I am not convinced that going full time with the county is the fiscally prudent thing to do.”
Resident Barry Gold, who has recently announced he is running as a write-in candidate for city council, said he is in favor of temporary nighttime patrols, though he believes the city should also consider contracting with the Sheriff’s full time.
“I understand why people want to keep our police department. It is in character with our cherished small town image,” he said. “But we have to realize it is no longer possible. Yes it is sad, but sooner or later we will need to contract with the Sheriff’s, I just wish it would be sooner rather than later so that the savings can start being used to fix our streets, sidewalks and most importantly more of our water pipes.”