As far as jails go, the Los Angeles Police Department’s gleaming, new Metropolitan Detention Center is about as good as it gets.
Armed with more than $70 million in public funds, the department spared little expense four years ago when it started construction on the 172,000-square-foot, five-floor structure that is one of the largest of its kind.
It’s wired with video cameras and has automated security doors and electronic fingerprinting stations. To better monitor inmates and cut down on overcrowding, the jail is divided into secure wings that are flooded with sunlight from skylights and kept cool by a centralized air conditioner. Sound-dampening panels even hang from the ceiling because studies show a quiet jail is a peaceful jail.
All that’s missing are the criminals.
The new detention center sits empty because of the city’s dire fiscal crisis, which has left the LAPD unable to hire enough jailers to operate the large, labor-intensive facility.
When construction started, police officials never anticipated that the city would be locked in a budget crisis and hiring freeze when it was time to hire additional jailers. But now, with the LAPD increasingly desperate to vacate a dilapidated, overcrowded downtown jail that the new one is meant to replace, department leaders are mulling ways of redirecting staff and other resources.
None of the plans, police officials warn, are very attractive.
“These options are not good options. These are the least undesirable,” LAPD Cmdr. Scott Kroeber said at a briefing before the City Council’s Public Safety Committee last week. “These are going to be difficult times.”
The LAPD operates 10 jails — seven consist of a few cells inside police stations and three are larger regional facilities in the San Fernando Valley, South Los Angeles and downtown.