Council to mull police reduction

Officials say there's little choice but to follow recommendation of restructuring police force to find savings.

June 17, 2011|By Lauren Williams,
  • Mayor Gary Monahan, right, and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, left, listen as an outside consultant speaks to City Council members regarding the restructuring of the police department during a study session at City Hall on Tuesday.
Mayor Gary Monahan, right, and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer,… (Kevin Chang, Daily…)

COSTA MESA — Restructuring the Police Department to reduce costs could put the city at risk for more crime and mean fewer officers dedicated to traffic enforcement, narcotics operations and other specialties, the police chief warned.

However, some city officials — now tasked with finding ways to shore up the budget — said there may be little choice but to follow at least some of the city consultant's recommendations to restructure the force. Such reorganization, the consultant claims, would save $1.3 million the first year and $1.8 million annually afterward.

The suggested changes advised by Management Partners Inc. include eliminating three officers, removing a lieutenant position — thus bringing the lieutenant positions down from eight to five — and keeping a police captain position vacant until Sept. 30 to save on wages.

The City Council plans to discuss the changes at Tuesday's meeting as it considers approving the city's fiscal year 2011-12 budget.


Also at issue is a proposal to reduce the Police Department from 139 active sworn officers to 131. But a force that size, interim Police Chief Steve Staveley said, may mean as few as 120 available officers because of illness, injuries and vacation.

"At any given time you can take 10 or 12 … off (those who are) actually available for deployment," Staveley said.

In addition, five of the positions would be somewhat less permanent, meaning they would be funded by a federal COPS grant that would pay their salaries for only three years.

Staveley believes the reductions would mean more officers doing generalized police work and having less time for specialist work in traffic, gangs and narcotics.

According to a May memo Staveley sent to the council, in California among 56 cities of similar size Costa Mesa ranks second in fatal collisions each year, sixth in drunk-driving related collisions and first in accidents happening between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m.

Armed with those statistics, Staveley said fewer officers could lead to even more speeding and accidents.

City CEO Tom Hatch acknowledged that changes to the police force would affect services and that he felt the city has done what it can to maintain service levels.

"The reality is, when you're changing sworn to non-sworn, there is a decline," Hatch said.

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