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That may seem like an odd question to ask, but answering it may lead us to some innovative ways to provide law enforcement protection while reducing costs.

A huge portion of the OC Sheriff’s Department budget is consumed by the cost of salaries and benefits. Unless the county prevails in its lawsuit to undo the retro-activity of the 2002 pension spike granted to AOCDS members, the path to containing those costs will be a slow annd gradual one.

Furthermore, most deputies are in the jails, not in patrol or other law enforcement activities. Non-jail OCSD employees are, for the most part, working for contract cities — which also bear the burden of the OCSD’s salary-and-benefit overhead. It might make more sense for contract cities, most of which are in South County, to start from scratch by forming a joint powers authority to provide law enforcement services. They could pool their resources, and at the same time build a public safety force freed of the financial burden of the OCSD’s pay-and-benefits structure.

Spinning off patrol and investigation functions to such JPAs would allow the OCSD to focus on the jails, where most of its deputies already work. Since that would make it more of a correctional rather than law-enforcement agency, it would make sense to accelerate the process of running the jail with correction officers — as in the Santa Ana Jail — rather than with more costly deputies.

Given the dire fiscal times we live in, we ought to be looking at a variety of solutions, even when they challenge our traditional experience and understanding of how, in this case, county law enforcement and correctional services are provided.