Inmates are no longer being held overnight at the Seal Beach city jail, in a move city officials described as a money saving measure and a response to the nation’s call for police reform.
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The City Council in September reclassified the jail as a temporary holding facility, where those detained are held only for a short time.
Previously, the detention center was able to keep street arrestees overnight for misdemeanors, felonies, and intoxication; it also housed long-term sentenced and pre-sentenced federal inmates.
According to a city staff report, the detention center has been a “point of contention” since it opened in 2008 due to a “drastic and trending increase in expenditures, with an overall decrease in revenues.”
The reclassification of the city jail will save Seal Beach approximately $166,176 in the first year, according to police Chief Philip Gonshak. He made the reclassification recommendation to the City Council last month.
COVID-19 has been preventing the jail from receiving any new Pay-to-Stay inmates, causing a significant decrease in revenue, according to the staff report. The Pay-to-Stay/Work Furlough Program allowed inmates to pay for better accommodations during their jail sentences.
“The Seal Beach Pay-to-Stay jail was no longer a viable business model,” said Sgt. Nick Nicholas. “This coupled with calls for police reform, led the City Council to the conclusion that the jail should be reclassified to a holding facility only.”
The funds that were going to the detention center have now been reallocated to other Police Department and city functions, according to Nicholas.
Arrestees will only be temporarily detained, most arrested for misdemeanors will be released with a citation, and those arrested for felonies will be taken to Orange County Jail in Santa Ana. Drunk inmates will be detained until sober, and then either cited and released or taken to the Orange County Jail.
“I truly believe this will get us right where we need to be with all our staff and literally eliminate all jail liability with outside inmates being housed in our facility,” Gonshak told the City Council.
The panel voted unanimously to approve reclassification of the city jail.
“How much more time on average do you think the police will be out on the streets?” Councilman Thomas Moore asked Gonshak.
The chief replied they will be reducing response times by adding a police motorcycle, and that with less administrative responsibilities tying them down, sergeants will be back out on patrol.
“Our number one goal is to respond to any 911 call as fast as possible, and overall that’s our goal with this — it’s to make our response times much quicker,” Gonshak said.
With the reclassification, all senior community service officers assigned to the jail wouldn’t be laid off. They would instead assist other police department bureaus that are understaffed such as records, property and evidence, the police chief’s office, and parking, according to Gonshak’s presentation.
Making arrests will still remain the officers’ main concern, as they will stop their current function to provide assistance at the jail.
Moore asked about how the officers’ new positions at the temporary holding facility and other department bureaus would work.
Gonshak replied, “Although they are a full-time employee, they’d be more of like a utility battery, or player for the police department to use in all of those functioning roles.”