New jail will be staffed by police, not civilian detention officers

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Civilian workers from the Los Angeles Police Department and their union representatives gathered in front of the new Metropolitan Detention Center downtown Thursday morning. The group hoped to draw attention to a problematic matter of staffing that has resulted from the current civilian-hiring freeze.

The new jail, which sat empty for more than a year, will finally open in February 2011. But it will not be staffed by civilian detention officers. Instead, the LAPD is pulling 100 current police officers off of their current posts to staff the facility.

David Yuen, an LAPD principal detention officer, sees the situation as a public safety issue.

“It makes no sense,” Yuen said. “During this budget crunch, we should be saving money and getting more cops out on the streets, not putting them in jobs done by civilians elsewhere.”

Police officers receive higher salaries than civilian detention officers. Public Safety First, a coalition of Los Angeles city unions, believes staffing the jail with police officers rather than civilians will cost the city an extra $7.6 million every year.

Adam Bartels is also a detention officer, but he spoke at the news conference as a concerned citizen. He was happy to pay an increased trash fee to add more officers to the police force. But he had envisioned those officers would be out on the streets, helping to keep his community safe. It makes him angry to think they will now be taking jobs that could be covered by civilians.

Unless the city allows a temporary lift on the hiring freeze for detention officers, there is little hope the situation will change between now and the opening of the facility.

The training session for the first set of 100 police officers working in the jail begins Nov. 8.