Bell Budget Crisis Threatens the Police Department
City Council candidates are divided over whether to disband the Bell Police Department to address the city’s $3.5 million budget deficit.
Some candidates say the city needs to start fresh and turn to outside protection to regain the public’s trust in the city. Candidates like Marcos Oliva, however, say that having a local police force brings a sense of community and security to the city.
“Most of these officers have family in the community, they grew up here, and they know the neighborhoods like the back of their hands,” said Oliva.
Still, the city may have trouble paying bills as early as May unless extreme cuts are taken. The Bell Police Department uses about 67% of the city’s general fund, but Oliva says they are willing to compromise and work with the community.
“As of right now, they have made cuts and have saved up $1.5 million. So that shows the willingness of the police to work with the new council, and that’s a great first step.”
While the Bell Police Department is a large focus of the City Council elections, Capt. Bruce Fogarty of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Contract Law Enforcement Bureau says whatever decision is made will have little effect on the public.
“We write up proposals for the city to basically match what they have now, in terms of officers on duty, what services they provide, and what the community wants,” said Fogarty.
Bell police officers even have the option of being hired by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department if they pass their entry tests.
“The only difference the public will notice is the uniforms of the officers on their streets,” said Fogarty.
Contracting with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department can typically save a city about 20% of their public safety spending, according to Fogarty.
Though the city is working to make budget cuts now, a decision about the police will likely be postponed until the new City Council members are elected on March 8. A majority of the candidates are in favor of keeping the local police, but the few that aren’t have quite a support system.
Candidates Mario Rivas, Nestor Valencia, and Miguel Sanchez have spoken out against the police with their slate “Justice for Bell.”
Valencia and Rivas have been endorsed by the LA Times.
Oliva is not worried. “I will tell you, 90% of our public supports the police department.”