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West Hollywood adds four sheriff’s positions amid crime fears

The West Hollywood City Council voted to fund four new sheriff’s positions, nearly a year after gradually reducing the number of sheriff’s deputies and putting the city in the front lines of the culture wars.

The 4-1 vote Monday to add the positions will budget two unsworn public information officers, one sergeant for the team that focuses on entertainment- and alcohol-related law enforcement and one sheriff’s deputy. It signaled further tinkering on how the historically progressive city addresses crime.

“The safety and well-being of our community are the city of West Hollywood’s top priority. We’re seeing that crime is trending downward in 2023 from 2022 levels. We’re deeply committed to continuing that trend and making sure our city is safe,” said Mayor Sepi Shyne.

The vote came near the end of a more than six-hour-long council meeting, during which council members grilled the captain of the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station as well as the head of the city’s “Block by Block” unarmed security ambassadors about crime in the 1.9-square-mile city. The city contracts with a company called “Block by Block” that hires unarmed “ambassadors” to patrol the streets.

The city came under fire from the right last year when it voted to add 30 of the ambassadors while decreasing the number of sheriff’s deputies by two.

Despite the fierce backlash in the media, crime fell in West Hollywood following the decision.

The most serious crimes — known as Part One offenses, including rape, murder, grand theft and vehicle burglary — were down 9% from October 2022 to April 2023 compared with the same period in 2021 and 2022, according to the Sheriff’s Department. Armed robberies dropped by 40%.

Still, the perception of crime in the city has been affected by such incidents as the robbery last month outside La Bohème when a man carrying an AR-15 style weapon approached a group of people and demanded their belongings. One victim was struck in the face by a suspect carrying a handgun, according to police. Four people were arrested in that incident.

Numerous residents brought up the robbery at the City Council meeting, prompting sheriff’s Capt. William Moulder to address it.

“What people are seeing is scary, certainly. But we have to still have a rational and pragmatic approach to how we invest our resources,” said Councilmember Chelsea Byers, who cast the sole vote against adding four positions to the sheriff’s station.

Byers said she was interested in using that money in other ways, such as raising wages for Block by Block ambassadors so the city can retain those workers long term.

“The Sheriff’s Department was… doing good work with the resources they had,” Byers said. “Crime hasn’t reached a level where I felt we had to make those specific investments in the deputies.”

While the liberal city in the middle of Los Angeles County remains a lightning rod over its politics, the number of sworn sheriff’s personnel has not changed much over the past nine years.

In 2014, the city had 62 sworn sheriff’s personnel, and in 2023 the number was 59, according to city data.

The addition of the deputy and sergeant in the new budget will bring the number to 61.



This story originally appeared on LA Times

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