Alternatives to Incarceration

If Sheriff Refuses to Use $24 Million for County Parks Bureau, LA County Supes May Reimagine LA’s Parks Bureau Without the LASD

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

Los Angeles County has one of the largest locally-operated public parks systems in the nation.

LA County’s park system consists of a variety of regional and smaller neighborhood community parks, plus nature centers, arboreta, gardens, and some golf courses, all of which also fall under the LA County park umbrella.

It is also a system of parks that is critical to the quality of life of millions of county residents whose only regular access to green and space may be at the nearest county park.

For the last eleven years, the LA County Sheriff’s Department has provided community policing services at many of LA County’s Park through its Parks Services Bureau.

LASD Parks Bureau keeping park visitors safe (and bandaged if need be). Courtesy @ParksLASD

Yet, during the struggle in July of this year over the LASD budget for FY 2020-2021, LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva threatened to eliminate the department’s Parks Bureau.  Furthermore, the sheriff  appears to have made the move unilaterally without any kind of agreement from the County Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR).

When Villanueva initially announced the probable elimination of the Parks Bureau in a very unhappy public statement on the LASD website, he characterized the decision as one demanded by then LA County CEO, Sachi Hamai, as part of  “defunding” the department’s budget. However, this claim by the sheriff that it was the CEO who insisted that he shutter the department’s Parks Bureau as part of cross county budget cuts, turned out to be…untrue.

(For the details see our July 2 story that includes the sheriff/CEO showdown.)

Fast forward to September 29, when the FY 2020-2021 Supplemental Budget was approved by the LA County Board of Supervisors.  This supplemental budget was a round two in which many of the things that were cut to balance the COVID-slammed July budget, were rescued in the late September Supplemental budgeting.

In the case of the sheriff’s department,  the board made a point of allocating $23.975 million to restore funding to the Parks Bureau.

However, according to a new motion authored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Janice Hahn, the department “recently indicated that the additional funding to restore the Sheriff’s curtailment of the Parks Services Bureau would not be used” for county parks as specifically intended by the supervisors.

The motion, which will come up for a vote on Tuesday, Oct 13, asks the interim CEO and the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) to report back within 90 days on “potential opportunities to enhance and reimagine Community Policing at County Parks.”

This appears to suggest that, unless the sheriff moves the designated funding back to the Parks Bureau,  the reimagined park policing will be done without the sheriff’s department.

Parks Bureau Deputies at the opening of Amelia Mayberry Skate Park, in South Whittier, courtesy of @ParksLASD

The motion states that the requested new report should also include recommendations for alternative staffing models for providing public safety and community policing at county parks, “including the use of unarmed staff trained in crisis response and violence prevention strategies.”

Furthermore,  if any of the above would require some kind of ordinance or ordinance amendment, then the motion instructs County Counsel, “in consultation with the Director of DPR”, to report back in 90 days, “with the requisite draft policies, ordinances, or ordinance amendments.”

The larger picture

If passed, the Ridley-Thomas/Hahn park policing motion will become a part of interweave of recently passed motions that call for system-wide change in order to create “a more equitable, safety-producing, anti-racist government,” particularly when it comes to anything having to do with the county’s justice system.
Among these other recently passed motions are the following:
On Tuesday September 29, the same day that the board approved the $23.975 million, that was intended to restore funding to the Park Services Bureau, the supervisors surprised many board watchers by allocating $72 million to a potentially history-making justice reform initiative known as Alternatives to Incarceration  or ATI.
As some readers may remember, on March 9, 2020, the ATI workgroup delivered to the supervisors a remarkable 98-page report outlining what needs to be done to  begin to build a  countywide system of “alternatives to incarceration,” which would necessitate a wide array of changes.

And at that same meeting, the board voted to adopt the ATI’s five main strategies, and to create the ATI Initiative as a permanent entity within the CEO’s, in order to begin implementing their recommendations.

But after the March meeting,  COVID – 19 began to explode in California in earnest, setting in motion collateral damage to the state’s and counties’ budgets.

In LA County, this resulted in a lot of plans, programs and initiatives getting slashed when the board approved its trimmed down FY 2020-2021 budget in July.

Most of the cash needed to jump-start ATI was among the things cut in order to balance the budget.

Yet, in late September, when it was time for the board to approve the county’s supplemental budget,  the supervisors made it a priority to come up with a working budget for the ATI.  Thus they allocated $72 million to help put the initiative’s five main strategies back into forward motion.

And as it happens, the part of its five strategies for change, the report notes that most of the people in the county’s jail system “come predominantly from five zip codes,” namely those representing South Los Angeles, Compton, Long Beach, and the Antelope Valley, and all in communities that are generally labeled “struggling” and “precarious.”

Part of the problem,  the report points out, is that these five areas “do not benefit from access to the same amenities and opportunities that exist in other zip codes” such as schools that provide a variety of academic and extra-curricular options, “and neighborhood parks.”  (Italics ours.)

So, having the money dedicated to providing public safety for the county’s park system, suddenly and reportedly unilaterally repurposed would seem like a move backward, when it comes to the ATI’s goals.

Another motion passed at the September 29 meeting that also has a bearing on the new Park Bureau motion.

This motion, authored by Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl, called for a  “robust violence prevention strategy ”  to “collaboratively bring to the forefront the range of services available for communities” to  help residents “lead healthy, trauma-free lives.”

This strategy would presumably include some kind of community policing services for the parks located in neighborhoods that “continue to be impacted by recurring and historical trauma from violence within their own households, and in their communities.”

A third relevant motion that passed at the same board meeting was authored by Janice Hahn, and directed county leaders reimagine the 911 system and ways that teams other than law enforcement could respond to emergencies, particularly mental health crises and other emergencies that would be better served by health and human services workers.

The Hahn motion also pointed to the ATI Work Group’s recommendations for creating a “Care First, Jails Last” county-wide system of care, which included redesigning the crisis response system to “utilize behavioral health responses for individuals experiencing mental health and/or substance use disorders, homelessness, unemployment and other situations caused by unmet needs; avoid and minimize law enforcement responses.”

So does that mean the Park Service should be completely be rethought using civilians?

Or could the community policing-oriented LASD Parks Bureau (which has been known for bureau members who are devoted to their work) successfully be a part of its own reimagining, if the sheriff’s department would fork over the $24 million that was intended for the bureau all along?

With all this in mind, it will be important to see what will happen on Tuesday in response to the Ridley-Thomas/Hahn motion aimed at “ensuring reliable and consistent public safety in Los Angeles County parks,” very possibly, unless something changes, without the aid of the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

More as we know it. So…watch this space.


In the photo above, the Trails Team is keeping Eaton Canyon Nature Center and the trails safe. The Eaton Canyon Waterfall Trail is a 4 mile out and back trail in Altadena. Courtesy @ParksLASD 

20 Comments

  • In fiscal years 1994, 1995, the late Sheriff Sherman L. Block on a move to amass more and more money, lobbied the BOS to allow him to take over the responsibility of County infrastructure protection by simply acquiring the duties being performed by the County of Los Angeles Office of Public Safety. As far back as the 1960’s, each County Department had it’s own Security Force which included the Department of Recreation and Parks Park Patrol. As time passed and more and more crime was being committed in County Parks, the Park Patrol underwent a change into the County Park Police. In fiscal year 1993,1994 all of the various County Police Agencies were consolidated into the OPS. Previously Sheriff Block acquired the Municipal Court Marshals Department. The Sheriff had no intention of absorbing the Marshals workforce however through the lobbying of Municipal Court Judges, a law was passed forcing their consolidation. When Sheriff Block passes away from Cancer, he’s successor Sheriff Lee Baca actually welcomed the preexisting workforce to come over however his immediate staff working behind the Sheriff back as a shadow administration made it almost impossible for many to be accepted. It was shame because they lost Veteran Officers that would have been an asset to the new roll the Department was undertaking.

    • The downfall is the cockiness of those in leadership with their personal agendas as evident in the past with absorbing Compton P.D., College Police, Safety Police, Los Angeles County Marshals who were treated like homeless strangers. Ask them how they felt about LASD

      Although there are several current insiders who can make a change, I only see an “outsider” to clean the cesspool with the next Sheriff’s election.

        • At the going rate, it doesn’t really matter.
          As stated by another commentor who wrote on this blog, hindsight, insight and foresight is needed.

          Cronyism and attempting to be “one of the boys” is making mockery of LASD and it’s legacy.

          • “At the going rate, it doesn’t really matter.”

            I dunno about that.

            The people who’re unhappy with D.A. Lacey are also unhappy with AV; they’ll probably field a candidate for the upcoming Sheriff’s race.

            Lessee who that might be.

    • Mr Danford, nice rewrite of history. Sheriff Block did try to lobby the judges but was out-lobbied by the Marshal’s Department. And, yes, the BOS made the decision in the long run – and is saved the TAXPAYERS millions by having the larger organization absorb the smaller, rather than visa versa.

      By the time Baca became Sheriff, 6 years had passed and the merger was a non-issue. Besides, the top administrators who stayed around to work for Baca were his hand-picked cronies (remember Miron, Stonich, and Waldie). Top dogs under Block couldn’t stand the thought of working for a yo-yo like Baca and all retired. A few hold-over Chiefs stayed until they could retire but were hardly in any positions of power. Baca filled all the vacacies created by the mass exodus with his camp-followers. There was no “shadow administration”. Laughable.

      Block didn’t have cancer.

      You lack facts or candor.

      • Danford’s timelines and facts are way off. Poor old Sheriff Block slipped in the shower at home, causing a brain bleed that ultimately killed him. And you may remember the BOS voting to call the slip and fall a work-related injury so as to maximize the benefits paid to his wife. I doubt any line swine would ever get that treatment from the BOS.

      • What happens when liberals elect a liberal to office. I guess you wouldn’t want to take power away from that individual person.

  • One of the more frustrating complaints of the 80s and 90s was the lack of safety in local parks. I can imagine a return of this lawlessness in County Parks. The continuing growth of the Homeless will impact the safety of these parks. Most of these BOS will have moved on by than but their legacy will live on.

    • @ Seeking,

      Let me help you finish your above statement… as well as the disastrous legacy of the formerly retired lieutenant, Alejandro Villanueva, who is now miserably trying to play sheriff. The destruction of the LASD right before our eyes will have long term negative ramifications for our members as well as the public we serve. Those disastrous ramifications will play out far beyond his one and only embarrassingly failed term in office.

      #WorstSheriffEver
      #RecallSheriffV
      #ResignSheriffV
      #ShamefulSheriffV
      #1TermSheriffV
      #AdiosAlejandro

  • Bring back the L.A. County Police Department. They should have never been absorbed by LASD. If they were still a stand alone agency they wouldn’t be at risk for elimination the way they are under lasd.

  • 25% rise in homicides in the city from this time last year. We know who the problem children are and where to concentrate resources but WLA seems to have more important issues to deal with. Only minority residents getting dumped by and large, nothing to see here unless Blue is at the other end of the trigger. Like last night in Willowbrook. Let’s see how that plays out.

  • I received my latest Star News, and it’s interesting how there are only 4 articles. The old and worn out retirees, Personnel, (with the departments largest suck up Captain, put my picture in put my picture in) Temple and MCJ. That shows a person just how bad morale really is, nobody cares anymore.

  • Is there a thing to be excited, jovial and celebratory for within LASD….or any law enforcement agency for that matter right now? The year has not been a very good year for our society as a whole and out of any profession, law enforcement has been demonized, vilified and criticized as the purveyors of evil and the sole occupation responsible for all the countries historical injustices. The LA County BOS has continuously attacked the Sheriff and threatened to lay off personnel and you really think most units in the Department care about submitting a “feel good piece” to the union magazine? This is not the Sheriff’s fault as you would like to use it to support the narrative that he is responsible for a perceived lack of esprit de corps within the Department. No, thank the political climate, media, anti-law enforcement rhetoric and sentiment for that.

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