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Community Commentary: Council should listen to interim chief's opinion

June 17, 2011|By Clay G. Epperson

Given the new City Council majority is moving with maximum haste to dismantle Costa Mesa's public safety infrastructure, it is important to take the time to understand some of the implications for the safety and security of our city.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that I am a member of the newest class of evildoer; I am a public safety retiree. But having been employed in the Costa Mesa Police Department for more than 30 years and as a resident of the city, it is immensely disturbing to see Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and his cronies unwind more than 50 years of careful, measured local governance by both elected officials and city employees who have effectively served the needs of this community.

The current basis for the reduction of police officer staffing from 164 sworn officers to 125 is a recommendation from the city chief executive that disregards a study by an outside consultant and the advice of one of the most highly respected law enforcement officials in Southern California: interim Police Steve Chief Staveley.

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There is substantial evidence that the staffing level of 125 officers is a number the council majority picked prior to obtaining any expert advice. After cutting to 125 officers, they expect to hire back five with a federal grant.

Having worked around and with a number of government grants, it is somewhat unlikely that the federal government will allow the city to reduce staffing from 164 to 125, then hire back five using a grant. Even at 130 sworn officers, this puts staffing at levels that have not been seen since the early 1980s. The city's population then was about 85,000 — about 30% less than today.

In Staveley's view, the absolute minimum for police staffing is 140 sworn. As an interim chief, and having been the chief officer of a variety of state and local police agencies, he provides a balanced and objective view.

He does not say that 140 is good; he says it is the minimum acceptable. You can infer that he thinks staffing to 130 would be dangerous for the community. I think we should listen to him.

The problem with reducing the police staffing levels to extremely low levels is that it forces a fundamental and negative transformation in policing. As the department shrinks in size, operations will gradually shift from proactive to reactive policing. Instead of having our officers engage in real problem solving they will spend most of their time rushing around, trying to put Band-Aid fixes on chronic problems.

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