Calexico is again negotiating with Imperial County to have the county Sheriff’s Office take over law enforcement duties in the financially embattled border city, county and city officials confirmed, but details on the process remained scarce.
By any measure the move would be a major undertaking for the Sheriff’s Office, which is responsible or law enforcement in the unincorporated areas of the 4700-square-mile county and runs a county jail housing about 500 inmates.
The agency some years ago took over responsibility for law enforcement for Holtville after that city dissolved its police department. However, Holtville’s population is just over 5000. Calexico’s burgeoning urban area exceeds 40,000 with another nearly 40,000 passing daily through the international border crossing separating the city from Mexicali, a sprawling Mexican metropolis of more than 1 million.
Human and drug trafficking are commonplace.
Asked to comment about matter, two leading countyofficials provided brief responses.
Undersheriff Federico Miramontes noted ICSO is preparing for the transition “if all the stars align” and added, “There are ongoing discussions with the (county) CEO (chief executive) office and the city of Calexico and we can share more information when there is a final agreement.”
Sheriff Raymond Loera, who is running unopposed this year for a fourth term, did not immediately respond to a voicemail seeking further comment.
County District 1 Supervisor John Renison, who is facing opposition in his re-election bid, stated in two e-mail responses, “The City Manager or Mayor would be more appropriate. They are more informed as to the fiscal impact,” and
“Decision rests entirely with City Council. City Manager is tasked with obtaining cost analysis.”
Facing a budget deficit and increasing costs, Calexico is revisiting a move it previously considered.
Calexico City Council Member Armando Real agreed to speak in more detail about the situation.
He recalled that in June 2015 the city was nearly $5 million in the red as it attempted to negotiate with city departments, including the Police Officers Association. Needing a fallback plan if negotiations with the POA came to an impasse, the city considered having the Sheriff’s Office take over for its police department.
In the end, Calexico made an 18-month deal with the POA. However, now approaching the June 30 end of the fiscal year, financial matters are reaching acritical point.
“We need a settlement with the POA before June,” he said. “We need a contract for at least three years. Negotiating every year is exhausting and time consuming.”
Real suggestedhaving ICSO assumelaw enforcement may be good for the city.
“When I came in 2014 we had 40 officers. Now it’s down to 20,” said Real. “Whether it’s the Calexico Police Department or the County Sheriff’s Office they’re both sworn to protect the people. I have the same respect for both agencies. But there are benefits with the Sheriff’s Office.”
The Sheriff’s Office is a bigger force capable of covering a wider swath of ground. It also has more extensive equipment and the city could expect broader service on the whole, Real argued.
“I believe Calexico is patrolled by three police cars and it should be at least five,” he said. “This is a decision based on fact; who gives us a safer city for the most economical cost? Holtville went to the Sheriff’s Office years ago. I hear a majority of residents approve of that.”
Real emphasized he has no problem with the Calexico Police Department continuing to patrol the city, but it is a matter of doing what is appropriate for the city. He also speculates the city needs to look at more concessions from different departments as the city is likely to have another general fund shortfall this coming fiscal year.
Should the Sheriff’s Office take over Real suggested it would hire many of the police officers, as ICSO currently needs personnel. And he explained the Sheriff’s Office will give Calexico a way to tailor the number of deputies to what is required. Some mistakenly believe deputies will be dispatched from El Centro but they will actually be based at the Calexico Police Department, he added.
The biggest justification for change is cost, Real said, explaining in 2012 the city police budget was $3.5 million while today it is $7 million. He added two years ago the cost quoted by the Sheriff’s Office to take over city policing duties would have resulted in a$2 millionannual savings.
“When you outsource police, your city insurance goes down considerably,” said Real. “Workmen’s compensation will go down and your liability goes down. So, you save on a lot on financial obligations.”
Ben Horton, development/real estate consultant and member of the Calexico Economic Development and Financial Advisory Commission, remarked the city needs to look at adequately staffing the department.
“The police department is undermanned because of the financial crisis (estimated $700,000 deficit),” said Horton. “Measure H (the 2010 voter-approved half-cent city sales tax) was sold to citizens as a way to satisfy the needs of public safety. But it was not attained because those funds were used to cover city expenses outside of what Measure H campaign literature promised voters.”
One of Renison’s opponents in his re-election bid, former Calexico council member Joong Kim, said because any government’s top priority should be public safetyhe does not look favorably on dissolving the city police department.
"I'm against it, not at all," said Kim. "I believe they (city council) are using thecurrent budget deficit as an excuse not to settle issues with the police and fire departments. I believe the city council should tell the city manager to find a way to resolve the budget issueinstead of turning over law enforcement to the Sheriff's Office."