While monitoring federal debacles such as Obamacare and the stimulus package, taxpayers should not lose sight of local governments such as Los Angeles County, whose population of nearly 10 million exceeds that of many states, with a bureaucracy to match. Los Angeles County once maintained something called the Office of Public Safety, a police force largely unknown to many residents. This confirms that government is always bigger than taxpayers imagine, and more wasteful.
With multiple police forces within its jurisdiction and a hefty Sheriff’s department, Los Angeles County did not need the Office of Public Safety. But as Milton Friedman observed, once some government agency or program gets going it is practically impossible to shut it down. So it came as some surprise when in 2010 Los Angeles County announced that to save money it was dissolving the Office of Public Safety. But as this Los Angeles Times report notes, it didn’t exactly turn out that way.
Many of the officers from the Office of Public Safety sought employment with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The department took on some but rejected many because of their records of dishonesty and “serious misconduct.” Not to worry because supposedly cash-strapped Los Angeles County gave “dozens” of the rejected cops positions in county social service agencies. One officer had “cut a man’s neck with a knife in an off-duty fight outside a bar.” Another was convicted of spousal assault and an officer who in county employ solicited prostitutes “about 100 times” was given a job investigating welfare fraud.
Los Angeles County had no obligation to hire any of these people, let alone those with records of serious misconduct and prone to violence. But they hired them anyway because “they wanted to avoid as many layoffs as possible.” So the elimination of the Office of Public Safety turns out to be something of a fake, with little if any saving for taxpayers.
A government job, whether or not it is necessary, and even if the employee is incompetent, dangerous, or costs taxpayers more than $2 million in settlements, turns out to be practically impossible to eliminate. This dynamic shows why government at all levels costs much more than it should.