New LAPD jail sits idle from budget shortage

LOS ANGELES The top brass of the /*LAPD*/ moved out of Parker Center months ago into a gleaming new police headquarters across from /*City Hall*/.

All that's left in the old building is the L.A. City Jail. It's cramped, hot, and after 60 years, ready for replacement. A new $74 million state-of-the-art city jail is ready and waiting just outside the old jail.

After four years of construction, the new Metropolitan Detention Center is ready for use, but the construction fence is still up. The new jail won't be opened anytime soon, because the city cannot afford the 44 positions it takes to staff the new facility.

It turns out that it takes more officers to staff a new modular style jail than the old cell block type. But with a hiring freeze in place, the city council is trying to figure out how to pay for them without bringing in street cops.

"We need to open the Metropolitan jail," said Los Angeles Councilmember Dennis Zine. "We have a jail that's built with bond money. It's ready to go. I've taken a tour of it. It's ready to operate. We need to have detention officers to staff that facility."

This is not a new problem. Thirteen years ago, the sheriff's department couldn't open one tower of its new Twin Towers Correctional Facility because of budget constraints.

Months later, the department got an extra $14 million and opened the jail. All of these new jails are full of modern features like video cameras, automated security doors, electronic fingerprinting and modular bay housing, which makes it all the more frustrating that the new city jail can't be opened.

"The basic problem is that the new jail, because of its configuration, which is a result of federal and state regulations, requires more personnel for the same number of prisoners," said L.A. Police Commissioner Rob Saltzman.

The department says it plans to close some station house jails and use detention officers for the new jail. It's also looking to contract private security firms to move inmates to and from jails to free up officers.

Everyone is looking for a solution without success.

"It will mean that we'll have to make some very difficult decisions," said Los Angeles Councilmember Jan Perry.

Officials hope their efforts will pay off so the jail can be opened by the end of 2010.

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