Mission Viejo’s Mayor Pro Tem Ed Sachs told a city council meeting it could be time for south county cities to form their own police force due to the rising costs of contracting with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

“I have no idea what it costs us per deputy to run police services in this city,” Sachs said at Tuesday’s council meeting. He also stated he doesn’t have reliable crime statistics and the cities that contract with the Sheriff don’t have input on the department’s contract negotiations with the County.

“If we’re not able to get those sorts of things … it may be time in fact to form a smaller JPA (Joint Power Authority) in south county and start our own police services,” Sachs said during council communications at the end of the meeting.

Mission Viejo is the lead city that’s circulating a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the 13 municipalities that contract with the Sheriff’s department for a study to evaluate the contracts. 

City Manager Dennis Wilberg said in a telephone interview Wednesday “we’re hoping to have all of the cities take action on the MOU by September 26, which is when we are bringing it to our City Council.”

In the meantime, Dana Point is the next city to consider jumping on board the study. The city is scheduled to vote on it Sept. 19.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors approved a one-year contract between Mission Viejo and the Sheriff’s department at the June 27 board meeting. The city was hit with a nearly $700,000 increase in the annual contract for a total of just over $19 million for police services.

Under the current contract, there are at least 63 Sheriff’s personnel working in the city. The number includes one lieutenant, five sergeants, four investigators and 39 deputies. The city is paying $15.6 million for those employees.

The cost of one patrol deputy is $256,189, according to the contract.

Additionally, the city is paying another $609,000 for at least 17 “regional/shared staff,” which brings the cost to $16.3 million for Sheriff personnel.

The city is also paying another $2.7 million in “total other charges and credits” for services like “premium pay for bilingual staff; contract administration; data line charges; direct services and supplies; enhanced helicopter response services … holiday pay; Integrated Law & Justice of Orange County Fees…” according to contract documents.  Unlike the personnel section, the charges and credits aren’t broken down by line item.

It all brings the total to just over $19 million.

“We have no input into that process whatsoever, but we’re saddled with the bills from that process,” Sachs said of the Supervisor’s contract negotiations with the Sheriff’s department.

The 13 cities that are proposing the study include: Mission Viejo, Aliso Viejo, Dana Point, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Woods, Lake Forest, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, Stanton, Villa Park and Yorba Linda.

Over the past 10 years, costs for those cities have increased an average of 33 percent, with 25 percent of that increase in the past five years, according to draft documents in the MOU.

“I’ve said many times during our budget negotiations … that the cost of public safety continues to escalate and we get very little information back on what those actual costs are,” Sachs said.

Mission Viejo Councilwoman Trish Kelly said about a third of the city’s budget is spent on the Sheriff’s department contract.  

She told Voice of OC the city has seen “a little bit of an increase every year. The last couple of years has been a dramatic increase.”

“It’s a big part of our budget, but it’s a high priority,” Kelly said.

Meanwhile, reports on the Sheriff’s website for Mission Viejo indicate that most of the crimes in 2017 within the city were theft, disorderly conduct, vandalism and “other assaults.”

During the meeting, Sachs — without statistics in-hand — said Mission Viejo doesn’t need a lot of the extras that come with contracting with the Sheriff’s department.

“We get an awful lot of rhetoric about how we can have the SWAT team and we can have helicopters and all these other sorts of things. Honestly, we rarely need those kinds of services. I’m not saying they’re not important.”

Sachs also said he believes the council is “getting erroneous data.”

“We claim over and over again we’re the safest city in the area. I have no idea. I have no idea if that’s true or not.”

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC reporter who covers south Orange County and Fullerton. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org.

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