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Calif. city forms new police department to aid in crime response

The newly formed Lancaster PD is looking to hire retired or experienced law enforcement officers with starting pay around $120,000 a year

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Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris makes welcome remarks for the opening ceremonies at the BYD coach and bus expansion grand opening of its Lancaster facility on Friday October 06, 2017.

Al Seib

By Noah Goldberg
Los Angeles Times

LANCASTER, Calif. — The city of Lancaster is creating a new police department to help Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies respond to crimes and practice proactive policing, the mayor announced Tuesday.

The Antelope Valley city of 180,000 north of Los Angeles has never had its own police department and relies on the Sheriff’s Department to handle crime and 911 calls.

But the Lancaster sheriff’s station is one of the busiest in the county, according to Sheriff Robert Luna. That and a decade of unfilled vacancies at the station that forced deputies to work overtime made Mayor R. Rex Parris come up with the idea for his city’s own police department.

“It’s my obligation to keep the families in Lancaster safe,” Parris said. “I take it very seriously. And quite frankly I do not care who I offend. You cannot defund the police and have a safe society.”

Parris repeatedly brought up the “defund the police” movement in explaining his belief that a new police department would help lower crime in the city.

The newly formed Lancaster Police Department will initially hire eight officers, said Rod Armalin, who will be sworn in as the city’s first police chief.

The city has budgeted “several million” dollars for the department, including funds for four squad cars and the eight officers, according to the mayor.

It will take an initial investment of $10 million to “stand up” the department, but the annual budget will be lower than that, a spokesperson for the city said.

The officers, referred to as “peace officers,” will be armed. The city is looking to hire retired or experienced law enforcement officers. The newly hired officers will not hit the streets until 2024, Armalin said, and the starting pay will be around $120,000 a year.

Parris said he expected the department could grow quickly to as many as 20 to 30 officers.

“Whatever it takes, we are going to reduce crime in Lancaster,” Parris said.

While Parris noted that, statistically, Lancaster is a safe place to live, “people still don’t feel safe.”

Because of that, a primary role of the new police force will be to help speed up police response times as well as to be visible on the streets. The department will respond to low-level crimes, and Parris said it will likely handle many crimes occurring within the city’s homeless population, like bike thefts.

“As the homeless population increases, unfortunately, so does the crime. Do you really think they pay for those bicycles you see them on?” Parris said. “Because you’re homeless does not give you a right to commit crimes.”

The department’s officers wlll be “nondispatchable,” meaning they will not respond directly to 911 calls.

Instead, they will respond to locations after the Sheriff’s Department in order to speak with perpetrators and victims of crimes to try to make sure incidents do not occur in the future, Parris said.

Parris cited a 2020 incident in which sheriff’s deputies in Lancaster killed a man while responding to a domestic violence incident with his fiancee as an example of how the police department could help. The home where the killing occurred had had previous domestic disturbance calls, he said.

“It occurred to me that that was to some extent our fault. There had been previous calls. We never went and talked to them. It could have been a simple matter of education and this never would have happened,” Parris said.

Now after an incident, police might respond to the scene and speak with the couple in hopes of averting future incidents, Parris said.

The city’s first police chief, Armalin, started his career with the Sheriff’s Department. Most recently he served as the police chief of Sierra Madre before coming to Lancaster to run the city’s Public Safety Department.

Armalin said the police department’s job will be looking at “root-cause” contributors to crime in the city.

Armalin said his first act as chief will be to introduce himself to community associations and groups and ask how the department can help them. One of the goals of the department will be to take stress off the sheriff’s deputies in the city, he said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
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