Los Angeles officers Nick Ferara and Alan Woodard dread the 15-mile drive from the Police Department’s Harbor Station to the 77th Street Station to take suspects there and book them into jail.
Meanwhile, for the past eight years, inside their own San Pedro station house stood a 16,250-square-foot jail, vacant.
“That drive is emotionally taxing,” Ferara said, “especially during rush hour.”
It’s a drive Harbor Station officers have performed since their state-of-the-art jail closed in July 2010 because of budget cuts. Just 10 months before, the $40 million station house that includes the jail had opened, replacing an older division headquarters on the same site.
Finally, on Feb. 16, the Harbor Station jail will reopen, thanks to LAPD Chief Michel Moore winning the City Council’s support of an initial $2 million-plus expenditure, with about $900,000 of that for upgrades.
Suddenly, Harbor Division cops will ditch the long drives for more patrolling and local policing.
“It’s going to give us our police back,” said George Palaziol, a 45-year-old San Pedro resident. “When we lose them for a few hours, it’s a hindrance to the community.”
It also means breathing new life into the facility, which sat “tomb-like,” Sgt. Catherine Plows said while inside the jail on Friday.
“It’s usually so quiet in here,” Plows said. “I used to go through every now and then to make sure everything was still working. It’s nice to see it up and running again.”
The station house and its jail, at 2175 John S. Gibson Blvd., serves San Pedro, Wilmington, Harbor City and Harbor Gateway. It sits near the port, next to the 110 Freeway and just north of the Channel Street exit, and has 265 employees that include the command staff, detectives and officers.
The jail’s 38 cells can house 45 male and 20 female inmates, the sergeant said. The cells are 11 feet by 7 feet to 16-by-15.
Since 2010, when officers have made an arrest they would take the suspect to the Harbor Station while they finished paperwork, then head north on the 110 Freeway to South Los Angeles to book the suspect before making their way back to the Harbor area to continue patrolling.
That practice took two to four hours depending on the time of day – keeping officers out of the field.
If a suspect was uncooperative, it could take even longer.
“There are situations where while we’re driving there, the arrestee has a mental breakdown or is trying to bust out a window,” Ferara said. “Then you have to stop on the freeway and potentially stop other drivers just to deal with the suspect.”
Officers Ferara and Woodard said on an average 10-hour shift they make two arrests – two trips to South L.A.
“(The criminals) know that when their buddies get picked up there’s no cops around,” said Palaziol, the San Pedro resident.
“Everybody knows how limited we are with our law enforcement on the streets, and when a unit leaves town, that just makes it easier for crimes to occur,” he said.
In 2016, LAPD started using a shuttle for the Harbor Division on the busiest nights, Thursday through Saturday, to get arrestees to the South L.A. jail.
How many more hours will cops be on patrol with the jail’s reopening?
Police did not know yet, but it clearly will be a lot more than it has been.
Booking times will only take short drives and 20 to 30 minutes.
Los Angeles Councilman Joe Buscaino, a former Harbor Station cop who now represents the Harbor area, said the jail’s reopening is a victory for the community. He applauded the residents who drove to to downtown L.A. multiple times to speak at council meetings.
“It means a great deal – we’re restoring public-safety resources that shouldn’t have been taken away in the first place,” Buscaino said.
In the past decade, most of the jail hasn’t seen much activity aside from Plows checking equipment and cadets keeping it cleaning. The jail has been used for filming television shows “This Is Us” and “Shameless.”
Harbor Division’s was one of five LAPD jails closed from 2010 to 2012. The others remained shuttered: Devonshire, Southwest, Wilshire and Foothill.
Such jails hold arrestees for up to 96 hours before they’re transferred to a sheriff’s jail or released.
The Harbor Division jail includes three visitation windows, TVs, a small kitchen and an outdoor yard for an evacuation if a fire ever breaks out.
Now, the jail has cameras and an intercom in every cell and an automated system that allows a jailer to open and close cell doors from a command center. The systems have all been switched over to digital from analog.
Twenty-seven jailers will staff the jail.
The jail also contains a holding area where suspects, often those who are drunk and don’t need a jail cell, are handcuffed to metal benches that has been in use since the station’s opening in 2009.
Officer Ferara said reopening the Harbor Division jail will benefit suspects as well.
“It gets us back on the streets that much faster,” he said. “And they’re already home once they’re released.”