Jeopardizing Public Safety for Political Gain

PUblic Safety RallyFor almost three years Costa Mesa has been in a constant state of flux.

First, our newly elected and appointed council majority claimed we were in a financial crisis and needed to take swift and radical action to get us back on course. An ill-conceived and secretive plan to outsource city services was hatched (which the city attorney advised against unless procedures were properly followed), pink slips were hastily issued to more than half of the city’s staff, personal tragedy befell City Hall, and avoidable lawsuits ensued.

The Costa Mesa taxpayers have paid more than $3 million in legal fees over the past two years[1], and there’s still no light at the end of the litigation tunnel.

Then, when the city’s financial health was revealed to be not as dire as the councilmen alleged, our then-Mayor Pro Tem concocted the idea of creating a city charter to give the council new tools and greater power. After a failed attempt to fast track the item for a June primary ballot (which also resulted in unnecessary litigation), the council majority pressed ahead with a virtually unchanged document for the voters’ consideration last November. Costa Mesans were not fooled, and soundly defeated Measure V by a 3 to 2 margin.

Along the way the council majority pushed for the sale of the Orange County Fairgrounds, approved an unconscionable deal for the Banning Ranch development, created self-serving committees to craft an unjustified charter and redevelop Fairview Park, and dismantled a carefully cultivated governmental organization.

The council majority members have consistently disregarded residents, disparaged city employees, and dismissed anyone who voices a contrary opinion. And they have basked in the media limelight, drawing national attention to our community’s perceived dysfunction and chaos.[2]

Costa Mesa needs to return to stability.  

The foundation of a stable community is strong public safety. That should be the paramount concern of our local government. Without security, a city’s efforts to promote economic development, attract new residents, invest in infrastructure, and create a sense of civic pride are for naught.

If nothing else, we should be, and feel, safe and secure in our neighborhoods.

 

Here are the unequivocal (and sobering) facts:

 

Crime

Crime in Costa Mesa is up significantly over last year[3]. According to the latest FBI statistics, property crimes increased 15 percent, including a 27 percent jump in burglaries and 35 percent leap in vehicle theft. Violent crimes increased by almost 10 percent, including an 18 percent spike in aggravated assaults.

 

Police Staffing

We have 120 sworn officers now[4] (council-authorized strength in this year’s budget is 132), including about a dozen who are off duty because of injury. We have only 108 able-bodied police officers to serve our community of 112,000.

 

Thirty-eight sworn personnel, including two captains and a chief, have left the department since 2010[5]. Two years ago we had 62 officers on patrol[6]; today we have only 45. Our police force has not been this low since the 1980s.

 

Until early this year, the city had not hired a new officer since 2008. It takes approximately 18 months to test, hire, and train a new recruit before they can operate independently in the field. Despite hiring five new officers, the Chief expects to lose more than a dozen seasoned policemen over the next year.[7]

 

Maybe even more important is the fact that Costa Mesa cannot recruit suitable candidates to fill existing and anticipated vacancies because of the toxic conditions created by the council majority[8]. With the police association’s labor agreement set to expire in 2014, what reasonable, qualified police officer would want to subject themselves and their families to such a politically volatile environment?

 

 

Costa Mesa’s safety has been impacted by a handful of trends over the past five years. Our economy has been stuck in a prolonged slump; there has been an increase in criminals released early from state prisons; and public safety agencies statewide have been reduced in manpower and resources. Also, our police department has seen noticeable attrition due to retirements. All of these have contributed to an increase of crime in our community.

 

But all of these trends are predictable. Thoughtful policymakers, in concert with well-trained staff, could foresee and address these issues in advance to avoid exacerbating our public safety conditions. Our councilmen, however, chose to do nothing.

 

So why would our council majority, with full knowledge of these trends and their implications, fail to provide the resources to combat rising crime?

 

Why did they disband the ABLE helicopter program, a proven and localized crime deterrent that has effectively served our community for decades?

 

Why have they failed to negotiate in good faith with the police association to resolve pension and compensation issues?

 

Why have they created such a toxic climate that effectively drives away new officers – not just entry-level recruits, but also seasoned, lateral professionals who can fill the voids left by retirements?

 

And why would our Mayor and Mayor Pro Tempore then take the unprecedented step of filing a highly unusual lawsuit[9] against the police who are sworn to serve our community with the utmost integrity, selflessness, and professionalism?

 

Our public safety personnel are not commodities that can be easily replaced, or traded, or purchased at a local market. They are not itinerant contractors who move from city to city for a job.  They are not low-skilled laborers with minimal education and training.

 

Our council majority knows this, but their actions speak otherwise. They have repeatedly rejected professional advice to maintain a higher level of staffing for the department. They have refused to engage in a genuine dialogue with the police association, despite the association’s numerous offers to sit down at the negotiating table.

 

If putting “residents first” is really the councilmen’s objective, then why have they put our security at risk? In their minds, it is more important to adhere to a political principle and litigate for personal gain than to ensure the community’s safety.

 

There’s nothing courageous about being obstinate. There’s nothing admirable in vilifying those who have pledged to protect us. And there’s certainly nothing to be gained by jeopardizing our community’s safety.



[1] http://www.dailypilot.com/news/tn-dpt-0727-legalfees-20120726,0,181545.story

[2] http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/09/05/110905fa_fact_frien

[3] http://www.ocregister.com/articles/crime-511153-year-police.html

[4] http://costamesaca.gov/index.aspx?page=47.  City staff directory of the Police Department.

[5] Source: Costa Mesa City HR Department, quoted in http://www.dailypilot.com/news/tn-dpt-me-0811-costa-mesa-hiring-20130809,0,1723531,full.story

[6] http://www.costamesaca.gov/ftp/council/agenda/2011/2011-06-21/Attachment-2_PDReorg_PD.pdf

[8] Ibid

[9] http://www.dailypilot.com/news/tn-dpt-me-0822-righeimer-mensinger-police-lawsuit-20130821,0,5208266.story