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Almost one year after making the controversial decision to cut four deputies from the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Department, the West Hollywood City Council voted 4-1 on May 15 to add four positions back to the department in its 2023-24 budget.
Four deputies were directed to be cut by the council a year ago, after a contentious 3-2 vote, while the city’s Block by Block unarmed security ambassador program was expanded.
However, only one deputy position has been eliminated since that council decision. Even with that, volunteer Dimitri Kermani said that the department has been grossly understaffed.
“I’ve seen the impact of the reduction of deputies in our department, [and] the negative impact its had on those deputies, as well as our residents and our businesses,” he said. “Our station is running on fine Antarctic ice. I’ve seen how overworked our deputies are … the required levels of overtime just to be able to operate the most basic level required to protect West Hollywood.”
The four positions will include a sergeant, a deputy and two public information officer/community liaison positions. An additional deputy could also be added when the council revisits the budget in December. The four positions represented a compromise proposed by Mayor Pro Tempore John Erickson, between the council members in favor maintaining current deputy numbers and those who wanted to restore the department to pre-pandemic deputy levels.
“Community safety is the most important thing that we as a council deal with,” Erickson said. “And we were hearing from our residents and businesses regarding recent events that have transpired in our community and public safety. And now look at all the tools we have in our toolbox: Block by Block, our forthcoming care teams … cameras, as well as other resources. We decided to look at how we could continue to enhance all the services to increase community and public safety. And so that’s why, ultimately, I made the motion to bring back [deputies] and it was a fair compromise that met and addressed everyone’s needs.”
The two “no” votes when the deputies were cut last year came from Erickson and Councilwoman Lauren Meister.
“I voted ‘no’ on the proposal that was ultimately passed because I had staffing concerns, timeline concerns, as well as how it would all be implemented,” Erickson said.
Meister said she was “thrilled” about the reversal from the council.
“As I’ve stated previously, the [Block by Block] ambassadors, while they provide beneficial services, are not a replacement for sworn personnel,” she said. “Having the additional sworn personnel – one sergeant and one deputy, as well as two civilian positions for communication and engagement with the community, should have a positive impact on public safety in our city. I look forward to LASD getting those positions filled.”
While Mayor Sepi Shyne voted in favor of adding staffing to the sheriff’s department, she qualified that she was not sure adding deputies would help reduce crime.
“I’m not convinced that that is going to all of a sudden decrease crime,” she said. “I don’t think we’ve seen this program long enough to know.”
Many residents were in favor of adding deputies back to the force, with a contingent of community members wearing T-shirts that read “68,” the number of deputies that were assigned to the station prior to the pandemic. As of last year, 60 deputies were on the payroll, and the approved cuts in the 2022-23 budget would to have reduced the department to 56 deputies. The general feeling among these residents was that Block by Block ambassadors were unable to meet the safety needs provided by the sheriff’s department.
“I don’t feel safe here in West Hollywood. I’ve lived here a decade,” resident Patrick Blood said. “I have nothing but respect for our sheriff’s department who are adeptly trained in working with the LGBTQ community. In fact, their training requires that they undergo sensitivity training.
Several business owners also described feeling unsafe, while statistics reported by the sheriff’s department showed a marked increase in burglaries and break-ins.
On the other end of the argument, resident Jackie Steele took issue with how some of the statistics are reported by the sheriff’s department and what she saw as “fear-mongering” by other speakers.
“The fear-mongering by business owners whom I’ve never seen participate in events nor council meetings is unacceptable,” Steele said. “This is a national dialogue that is happening and this is a progressive city.”
Block by Block ambassador levels will remain at the current level of 85 ambassadors. The final fiscal budget for the city is expected to be considered next month.
The lone “no” vote came from Councilwoman Chelsea Byers, who did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.
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