Six months ago, Costa Mesans for Responsible Government held a Rally for Public Safety in front of Costa Mesa City Hall. We brought attention to the fact that three city council members – Jim Righeimer, Steve Mensinger, and Gary Monahan – were jeopardizing public safety. We also pleaded to return Costa Mesa to some stability. CM4RG published an article on September 15, 2013, titled “Why we held the rally”. That article said, “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.”
We then stated some unequivocal and sobering facts.
- Crime was up in 2012 in Costa Mesa.
- On September 15, we had 120 sworn officers.
- Despite hiring five new officers, Chief Tom Gazsi expected to lose more than a dozen seasoned policemen, or one a month, starting in September 2013.
- Costa Mesa cannot recruit suitable candidates to fill existing and anticipated vacancies because of the toxic conditions created by the council majority.
More recently, on February 21, 2014 Assistant City CEO Tammy LeTourneau released four separate reports titled “Sworn Police Staffing Timeline”, “Police Department Staffing Information 2013/14”, “Police Department Attrition 2011-14” and “Costa Mesa Police Department Years of Service Document.” Five days later, the Current ran three separate articles discussing these numbers and conclusions. The Daily Pilot also printed an outstanding article assessing the report. Here are some facts to consider from these reports:
- Property crimes detectives used to have 20 to 30 active cases. As of now, property crimes detectives have 103. Also, according to one of these articles “At times, there are only six patrol officers on duty in the entire city.”
- Response times increased because there are now only 52 officers on patrol.
- According to an article in The Current, the number of sworn officers was down to 111 on February 26. On March 5, Officer Jacob Slechta left for another job in a nearby town. There are about a dozen officers off duty because of injury, leaving 98 able-bodied officers to serve our community of 112,000.
- It’s sad, but Chief Gazsi’s math was overly optimistic. We have already lost 10 officers in 6 months.
- Of the 43 officers who left, 25 gave the political environment as their reason for departing. One officer in particular, Kelly Benjamin, took a pay cut and a longer commute to transfer to another job in another city.
It is hard to believe things could actually get worse, but they did.
Six months ago, we wrote the following:
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.
Now their words also speak otherwise. The Mayor had an opportunity to respond to these reports. The same edition of The Current had another article, which stated, “Ask Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer about problems in the City Police Department, and he has a ready answer. ‘Pure politics.'” Righeimer is later quoted as saying, “This is all about money. It’s all about pensions. It’s all about power.” He drew these conclusions because “he thinks there’s a whisper campaign to make the public feel unsafe.” There were no other numerical or fact-based documents or evidence to substantiate his claim.
Six months ago, CM4RG rallied to warn the public on what was to come. After the rally, one of Mayor Righeimer’s top supporters went on the record and said “The rally was completely dishonest” and made a completely laughable video under a pseudonym, claiming the whole thing was “a bunch of union rhetoric.” CM4RG promotes causes and issues for one reason only – the well being of the residents of Costa Mesa.
The reports from Ms. LeTourneau, the recent statements of Chief Gaszi, Sergeant Everett, Officer Slechta, and others solidly verify CM4RG’s article from September. We take no credit or glory for predicting this sad state of affairs.
We feel sorry for the victims of crime here in our town. We feel sorry for those officers who poured their love and labor into an organization and ultimately had to leave. We are a poorer, less safe town because Mayor Jim Righeimer has not resolved the police staffing issue. The people of Costa Mesa must endure another eight months of his term before he can be voted out of office. Unless a massive, sincere change of heart takes place, and these police staffing trends are reversed, Jim Righeimer does not deserve reelection. CM4RG will also take a hard look at all candidates who support Righeimer-like measures or do not have fact-based, verifiable plans to reverse the damage.
I hope and pray that Costa Mesa can take eight more months of what we have faced in the last six. How much more crime can we really stand in Costa Mesa? We encourage every Costa Mesan to sign up for emergency preparedness courses, or get involved with neighborhood watches or the good work Diane Hill does with United Neighbors, or just be a little more neighborly in the months ahead.
Finally, if the current rate of departure of CMPD officers continues without qualified replacements, it may ultimately lead to outsourcing the police functions to the County Sheriff (on a predictable 3-2 council majority vote, no doubt). Are we really prepared for such a radical change to the most basic and essential service of city government? Are we really willing to turn over the keys of a once-proud city department to the county?
It should not have to come to this.
This is the biggest year of Costa Mesa’s history and the crossroads could not be clearer.