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LA County Supervisors Consider Shifting Money, Responsibility Away From Sheriff's Department

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to consider shifting some money and responsibility from the sheriff's department to other county services.

Supervisors Janice Hahn and Hilda Solis co-authored the motion to look at reallocating AB109 state funding from custody and probation operations to diversion, substance abuse and mental health treatment programs.

"This moment is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get away from our over-reliance on incarceration and invest in treatment and services," Hahn said. "We cannot police our way out of all of our problems — whether that be mental illness, or poverty, or addiction.

"I want to look critically at the state funding that we currently give to our jail system and see if there is a smarter way to spend this money."

When AB109 was passed, it shifted responsibility for lower-level offenders to counties in an effort to relieve overcrowding at state prisons. The bulk of the dollars L.A. County received were originally split between the sheriff's department, which received 63%, and the probation department, which was given 22%.

And while the motion did not provide proposed updated percentages, Hahn said it was time to rethink the allocations.

The county is expected to receive $358.3 million in unrestricted AB109 funding for the current fiscal year  — which is short of estimates, but more than may be necessary given the nearly 30% decrease in jail population due to the coronavirus pandemic. The board has also indicated that it intends to keep the incarcerated population at its current levels, even after the pandemic subsides.

"We don't need to be keeping 17,000 people locked up in jail every day," Hahn said. "We've managed to safely decrease our average jail population by nearly 5,000 since the pandemic began."

The board directed Sachi A. Hamai, the county's chief executive, to consider how that funding could instead be used for programs envisioned by a March report on Alternatives to Incarceration, which has been cited as a roadmap for the county's criminal justice reform efforts.

"Investing in community-based treatment and services, instead of incarceration, is not only humane, but is cost effective in the long run," Solis said. "It allows people to remain with their families and stay at their jobs, as they get treatment and help and that benefits all of us in the long run.

"We must continue to invite community voices to the table to not only participate in this conversation, but to also be part of the solution in how we can uplift and empower our justice-involved communities."

RELATED: LA County Supervisors Seek Independent Probe Into Deputy's Killing Of Teen

In a separate motion, Hahn recommended that the Department of Mental Health look into setting up a new emergency number that residents could call to request assistance from unarmed health and human services workers rather than armed officers or deputies.

"It's important, as we're seeing now, that the right kind of help arrives," Hahn said. "A call to 911 will dispatch law enforcement or paramedics ... but those are not always the most appropriate responses.

"We're asking our law enforcement officers and our paramedics to do so much and wear so many hats," Hahn continued. "They're not trained mental health professionals, social workers, substance abuse counselors, homelessness outreach workers."

Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he could get behind an auxiliary system to support the work he said his deputies were already doing, but expressed skepticism about whether other county workers could be counted on to show up to help residents during non-business hours.

"We have our 911 operators ... trying ... to transfer calls to a non-public safety branch, however what we found out is that the callers are on hold forever and there's no response," Villanueva said. "It's a 24/7 operation, it's not 9 to 5, Monday through Friday."

Villanueva said his deputies were thoughtful in considering the needs of those they serve, but that the county lacked the capacity to respond to every need.

"We've found there's a lack of support for alternatives when we identify them in the field," he said. "We're not just some brainless person with an armed response that shows up with a hammer looking for a nail."

Villanueva also pushed back against the Alternatives to Incarceration recommendations, saying that residents involved with the justice system had too heavy a hand in crafting them and suggested that the board talk with a broader group of residents, including victims of crime, before moving forward with reforms.

The board unanimously voted to move forward with both motions, which came days after the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Andres Guardado by a sheriff's deputy near Gardena.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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