Last month, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD) took over policing for Maywood, Calif., seemingly overnight after the city's liability insurance was cancelled. It was nothing new for the sheriff's department, which has been providing contract law enforcement for more than 50 years and claims to have been the first county to do so.

Los Angeles County signed its first contract to provide police services to Lakewood, Calif., in 1954. Today, the county polices 42 of the 88 cities in its jurisdiction and has a division dedicated to contract law enforcement.

The agency receives inquiries from numerous cities, and even other countries, on its policing model, says Lt. Russell Hill of LASD's Contract Law Enforcement Bureau. "There isn't just one way of doing it in terms of how you [divide] your time and personnel. Ours isn't necessarily the right way. It's one way, and it seems to be very successful," he says.

The day Maywood's liability insurance was cancelled on June 30, the city abruptly fired all of its full-time employees and opted to contract all of its municipal services. LASD began policing Maywood and its sister city Cudahy, which Maywood had been patrolling until then. "We never had to take over a city in just a few days," Hill says. "We always had months to figure it out."

The county has a roadmap to follow, though. In the past five decades, large swaths of Southern California have begun contracting with neighboring jurisdictions for services — so much so that there are now provisions in the state's laws governing how counties can recover costs from their contract cities. There is also a California Contract Cities Association, which has about 68 member cities. "We have a very extensive, intricate compliance mechanism," Hill says. "We tell the cities exactly the amount of service they're getting."

In addition to California, contracting has become particularly popular in Washington, Oregon and Florida. Broward County, Fla., provides contract law enforcement for 14 of the county's 31 cities, with service costs totaling $200 million.

Given the economy, some cities are finding that they have no option other than contracting, says Leonard Matarese, director of Public Safety Services for the Washington-based International City/County Management Association (ICMA). Many cities that want to break from the county and start their own police forces are finding that they cannot afford to do so. At the same time, counties are making sure the contract cities are paying enough for services. "Everybody is sharpening their pencils on both sides of the equation," he says.

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