On Monday the City Council will be reviewing a number of public safety initiatives, including a proposal passed by the Public Safety Commission to cut ten deputies from our Sheriff’s contract in order to fund emergency mental health outreach workers to treat our homeless population.
This is a classic “de-fund” the police effort, which will hobble law enforcement. But the proponent’s insistence that the money “saved” will provide meaningful assistance to the unhoused is based upon illogical analysis of the facts and challenges of providing meaningful assistance to those in need. I suspect on Monday and in the coming months we will continue to see an ongoing campaign of distorted facts and figures, so I had wanted to lay out some of the basic numbers to help keep the debate focused and accurate.
Mental health outreach workers can provide meaningful help to those homeless people experiencing meltdowns or who are acting out. I think emergency mental health workers should be part of our toolbox in dealing with homeless issues. But currently these outreach workers are being viewed as a panacea, a silver bullet to alleviate an otherwise intractable challenge in dealing with the unhoused.
The City is proposing a “24/7” outreach program what has a price tag of about $3.3 million.
Our local Sheriff’s department has provided a graph that shows that 13% of an average patrol deputies day is spent dealing with homeless issues. Another 5% is taken up with “mental health” issues for a total of 18%.
Public Safety Commissioner Nika Soon-Shiong and a couple of her co-conspirators have reasoned that the City could fund the proposed $3.3 million dollar by cutting that amount from the Sheriff’s budget. Therefore they proposed a cut of ten (10) patrol deputies, which is an approximate 16% cut in the Sheriff’s budget, to fund the outreach workers.
But here is where logic goes down the rabbit hole.
The Nika Soon-Shiong faction represented that the outreach workers could pick up 100% of all of the issues our deputies deal with regarding the homeless and mental health issues. That assertion is not even remotely accurate.
Not all of the deputies’ interactions with homeless involve mental health issues. Someone is sleeping in your laundry room or vehicle. Perhaps a homeless person is trespassing, setting up a tent on a parkway or passed out on the sidewalk. What if a homeless person is shoplifting or assaulting someone? How are mental health outreach workers going to deal with these situations, particularly if the homeless person is belligerent?
In regard to the 5% of the time deputies respond to mental health issues, many times those people are acting out violently. Are you going to send mental health workers out to deal with the problem without being escorted by deputies? Our Public Safety Commission seemed to lack a basic understanding of exactly how these issues go down in the real world. But you can’t ignore facts just because they don’t comply with your woke ideology.
It is probably more realistic to estimate that the mental health workers are at best going to be able to deal with maybe 5% of these issues without help from our deputies. And this may be an optimistic number.
But if we cut ten deputies, there will not be anyone to provide back up to the mental health care workers or even respond to most of the calls for services regarding the homeless. In effect that leaves us with a 13% cut in law enforcement coverage.
There are a couple of problems with the $3.3 million mental health outreach worker program as proposed. We basically have about 100 homeless people in West Hollywood at any time. A large number of them are completely invisible, doing their best to keep a low profile. Not all of them have mental health issues and even the ones that do are not constantly in need of an outreach worker. Indeed one Public Safety Commissioner attempted to inject some commons sense into the debate by saying that long term mental health services and housing are not currently available, under cutting the effectiveness of the proposed program. For most homeless people, intervention by the mental health teams would provide only temporary relief before they were back in the same environment.
We have not even done a pilot program to see how this very expensive program would work because the City Council simply wants to initiate it. Is there a huge need from midnight to dawn? It would be a shame to cut deputies, put this program in place and then find out is not living up to expectations.
At the March Public Safety Commission, Commissioner Nika Soon-Shiong naively stated that the elimination of even one Sheriff’s deputy would allow us to flood our streets with outreach workers. She based this conclusion on an annual price tag of $45,000.00 for a mental health worker. I know that Ms. Soon-Shiong is not familiar with the situations of average folks but at $45,000 annually, you are only paying someone $22 an hour to go out and deal with homeless people having mental meltdowns. Deputies get paid a lot because they place themselves in harms way. We are not going to get qualified outreach workers at that price.
Commissioner Soon-Shiong complained that the average deputy’s salary is $125,000 plus benefits of $102,000 and then contract cities are charged a premium of $70,000 for “overhead” for each deputy. Which is about $300,000 a year per deputy.
West Hollywood pays for sixty (60) deputies a year and our Sheriff’s budget is about $19 million annually. But the station generally has 100 employees on site, including the captain, dispatchers, jailers and investigators, all of which are paid by the “overhead” portion of the contract. In addition that “overhead” also pays for the SUVs, weapons, training and human services expenses of the Department.
Ms. Soon-Shiong has expressed her outrage regarding our $300,000 price per deputy without seeming to understand how the Sheriff’s contract works. She pointed out at the last meeting she ranted that the “top salaries” are 423% higher than the average pay for county employees. I don’t know where she gets her numbers but I bet the salary of our former City Manger was about 400% higher than the average county employee. Indeed management at WeHo City Hall is well above anything the County pays. This faux outrage is clearly misplaced.
The vote by the Public Safety Commission was ill considered and was incited by inflammatory statements by Ms. Soon-Shiong, which call into question both her maturity and her ability to serve on the Commission in an unbiased fashion. Ms. Soon-Shiong stated that 40% of crimes are not reported as apparently she believes WeHo residents are too terrified to call the Sheriff. Indeed at one point, she referred to law enforcement as being “gangs armed with automatic weapons terrorizing communities”. It was unclear if she included our local Sheriff in this blanket assertion but apparently such details are beneath her.
While a couple of the Public Safety Commissioners are advocating that we start our own police force, that is not going to help us in the here and now. While it is a subject that merits an adult conversation, it will take six or seven years to get our own police department off the ground; it is not like you can go to Costco and buy your own department off the shelf. As we are in a crisis of both public safety and confidence in our government, the City Council needs to put aside our political differences with the Sheriff and focus on making West Hollywood safer city today.
The City Council needs to immediately repudiate ANY cuts of patrol deputies from the Sheriff’s budget, agree to restore law enforcement funding to the 2018/2019 levels and work with the community and the Sheriff’s department on initiatives to make our streets safer.
The residents and businesses of West Hollywood should not be a war with City Hall over something as basic as our safety.