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New $74-Million LAPD Jail Remains Locked

The LAPD began construction of the new 172,000 square-foot Metropolitan Detention Center four years ago with $70-million in public funds. However, today it's still not being used.

The Los Angeles Police Department is still using the run-down and overpopulated Parker Center jail located in downtown LA. Due to the lack of funds, they are unable to hire jailers to run this five-floor structure, which is one of the largest structures of its kind.

The new Metropolitan Detention Center is equipped with surveillance equipment, automatic doors, and electronic fingerprinting stations. In order to provide greater monitoring of inmates and to securely decrease overpopulation of the jail, it is split into several wings with skylights and centralized air conditioning. They even installed sound-dampening panels from the ceiling to ensure the facility is quite. Past studies show that a quite jail is a peaceful jail. With all of this luxurious living, it is unfortunate that there are still no criminals occupying this space.

At the beginning of the construction process, police officials never expected the city to be in such a deteriorated financial condition. However, with the need for moving the criminals from the overcrowded jail to the new facility, department heads are trying to find alternatives. Unfortunately, according to police officials, none of the plans are appealing.

LAPD Commander, Scoot Kroeber, addressed these issues in a briefing with the City Council's Public Safety Committee last week saying, "These options are not good options. These are the least undesirable." He later stated, "These are going to be difficult times."

Around 120,000 people are arrested and booked annually in Los Angeles, and jails are the half-way spot where suspects are kept until arraignment. Usually, suspects are kept for a few days, though it may take as long as six days for them to be released during holiday weekends. The LAPD manages 10 jails in the Los Angeles area, only three are large facilities, the remaining seven are inside police stations, which only consist of a few cells.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and his staff had hopes of opening the new jail at the start of next year. In doing so, the LAPD would be able to shut down their main jail known as Parker Center and sometimes "Glasshouse" (due to the volume of windows), as well as four of the seven small jails housed in police stations. If this occurs, 56 of the 100 jailers needed to run the jail would then be available. Unfortunately, the City Council has currently issued a freeze on hiring any new employees, and the 44 jailers still needed for the new jail can't be hired unless the City Council makes an exception.

Even though the combining of jail facilities sounds promising to prospectors, in all actuality, the closures would bring out more than just a financial obligation. The end result would incur a loss of around 220 beds, and it would also add an increase travel time for police officers having to drive elsewhere to do bookings, verses using the smaller jails where they currently perform booking.

The head of the Public Safety Committee, Grieg Smith, stated during the briefing "It's a lose-lose policy all around."

Parker Center Jail - Out With the Old

Last year, the LAPD relocated its headquarters to a new facility downtown, but had no choice but to keep its frail central jail in Parker Center open. The jail in Parker Center opened approximately 60 years ago and resembles that of the past.

The old facility is showing wear and tear it's collected over the years of overpopulation. Windows lining the hallways have security screens that are covered in dirt and filth, and their surveillance system is outdated, which only covers a small area of the facility. For the time being, one guard sits in a closet size office to monitor the surveillance screens, two of which are broken and haven't worked for a long time.

One jailer spoke up about the broken screens saying, "We've put in requests for them to be fixed, but no one has responded."

There is no central air conditioning system in the old jail, so large fans have been placed at the ends of the hallways to circulate the hot California summer air. The ceiling fixtures are dim, and plumbing in the jail is less than functional. The jail was built to hold 151 beds, but due to the high crime incidents, the jail holds 440 beds.

Rob Saltzman, a Los Angeles Police Commission member, expressed this situation as "dire." He further stated, "We’re potentially waiting for something significantly bad to happen if we don't solve the problem. And that's very clear to anyone who takes a look at it."

That is another reason taxpayers approved the $600 million in 2002 for improvements, as a big chunk of that money was suppose to be for building a new jail facility.

Metro Center Jail - In With the New

The new jail is unique in that it consists of four wings equipped to hold around 125 inmates. Three jailers should be assigned to work in each wing, along with many other staff working in other areas of the facility, and ultimately requires about 22 people to fully staff it properly. This is quite an increase from the old jail where only 14 jailers were needed. The new jail facility, built next to the existing jail, will also house the property division, which holds evidence for cases.

Police officials are trying to figure out the best route for getting the new jail facility open, but keep running into many obstacles. They are considering closing jails, which would help in the amount of people needed; however, it would increase transportation problems. The problem that creates is how to transport suspects without having to use police officers. They are discussing the option of hiring a private service company, use officers from the Public Safety Office, or possibly hiring and certifying civilians.

They will be meeting again at the end of the month to discuss the possible costs of hiring the needed personnel and transportation options.

Source: Los Angeles Times