More than 100 Claremont residents showed up to Tuesday’s City Council meeting to express their opposition to a proposal to dissolve the city’s police department and contract with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department instead.
The suggestion to contract with LASD arose in response to Claremont’s increasingly pressing budget problem, which has the city facing a budget deficit set to grow to about $2.8 million by 2023-24. The city has also been attempting to raise funds to renovate or rebuild its aging police station, but a recent bond measure failed.
City manager Tara Schultz explained that the police department accounts for about 45 percent of the annual city budget — $12 million in all. Community members had suggested “over the last year or so” that contracting with the sheriff’s department would save the city money.
“This issue has come up with previous city council[s] and the conclusion has been to retain our own police department,” Mayor Larry Schroeder said. “A group of people in Claremont have been persistent and vocal about wanting Claremont to switch law enforcement services provided by the police department to contracting with the Los Angeles sheriff.”
Schultz told the assembled crowd that contracting with LASD could also be costly.
“If the council should decide to pursue this, and go through this process … there’s a lot of costs, particularly legal costs, that we will have to incur to get through phase one by itself,” Schultz said. “There’s expenses on our side. … So I think that that is really important for everyone to consider. Nothing’s absolutely free.”
Claremont Police Chief Shelly Vander Veen said at the meeting that CPD is very popular among citizens — it responds to an average of 26,000 calls for service a year, and averages 130 commendations with only two complaints about the department annually.
“I read every commendation that comes into the police department,” Vander Veen said. “The common theme is that people, our residents, are grateful for our staff’s high level of professionalism and their empathy. The bottom line is, when an officer responds to a crime, they treat that crime as if they were the victims themselves.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Claremont business owners, residents, school children and even law enforcement from inside and outside the city voiced their disapproval of the plan.
“I’ve spent the last 13 years as a law enforcement officer myself in the greater city of LA,” said one speaker from the community whom TSL was unable to identify. “And what I can tell you is, how much are you willing or not willing to pay for your family and your community’s service and safety? Because [Claremont’s] officers do it better than most of the other departments, including my own, from what I’ve ever seen.”
Others brought up the potential pitfalls of a contract with LASD.
The 42 cities which currently have contracts with the sheriff’s department sent a letter last year to Sheriff Alex Villanueva expressing concerns about the department rehiring fired deputies, Claremont resident and Pitzer College alumna Marcella Zita pointed out.
“These were deputies who were terminated for extreme ethical breaches, and potentially illegal activity in the prisons,” Zita said.
“Our residents are grateful for our staff’s high level of professionalism and their empathy…. when an officer responds to a crime, they treat that crime as if they were the victims themselves.”
-Chief Shelly Vander Veen
Darlene Berg, a Claremont business owner, praised CPD.
“They take time to have coffee with the community, answer our questions, remove unwanted loiterers, watch our businesses at night, greet us by name, … give us personalized attention that larger cities do not receive, [which] we might not get from the sheriff’s department,” she said.
Even children voiced their support for CPD.
“Claremont police officers care and strive to ensure and maintain Claremont’s sense of community,” 13-year-old Harper Tarros said. “I have had the privilege to get to know Chief Shelly Vander Veen … She serves as a strong female role model to me and undoubtedly countless others.”
“These officers make an effort to familiarize themselves with residents,” she continued. “My five-year-old little brother looks forward to seeing officers around town. In addition, I feel safe knowing Claremont PD is extremely proactive and dedicated to providing their people with a feeling of assurance and safety.”
Hundreds also submitted their thoughts via email. The council received 411 emails in support of maintaining CPD, two in favor of an LASD contract and three others, city clerk Shelley Desautels said.
Although the 5Cs have their own Campus Safety, CPD regularly assists Campus Safety officers. CPD responded at least 20 times to issues on campus in the last 60 days, according to Campus Safety records.
In an email, TCCS spokesperson Laura Muna-Landa commended the consortium’s “excellent relationship” with CPD.
While residents roundly praised CPD on Tuesday, the LASD has struggled with issues of corruption, including violent “cliques” formed among deputies, ABC 7 reported in Sept. 2019.
In July, the Los Angeles County inspector general warned of a “bunker mentality” and “crisis” facing the department, according to the California News Wire Services. The FBI is investigating such issues, according to the Los Angeles Times.