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Police: Politics harming recruitment

Sources say uncertainties make Costa Mesa undesirable. Mayor disagrees, calls issue manufactured.

August 09, 2013|By Jeremiah Dobruck and Lauren Williams

A small pool of qualified rookies and an overheated political climate are making it difficult for the Costa Mesa Police Department to fill a dozen vacancies with desirable candidates, sources familiar with the hiring process say.

Police agencies statewide are fiercely competing for solid academy graduates, and few experienced officers are seeking transfers to the CMPD because of their unease with the city's ongoing debate over public employee compensation, according to one current and two recently departed police officers.

Though new hires would come in under the terms of the department's current contract, which a management expert called competitive, the agreement expires in 2014 and negotiations for new terms are expected to be contentious. The city opened negotiations with an association that represents general employees Tuesday by offering steep salary cuts.

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Though three of five members of the council say overhauling employee compensation is necessary to ensure that the city can provide services in the future — an argument challenged by their opponents — one officer who recently left the CMPD for another police department said political strife is making Costa Mesa a hard place to work.

"They took what I always knew as one of the top tier OC agencies and turned it into a political hotbed of controversy and a social experiment in overly radical political reform," the officer, who requested anonymity, wrote in an email. "The end result is what we have today: a great agency that has been decimated, cut to the core and forced into a position of fighting not just the enemy on the streets but the very employer who employs you."

Mayor Jim Righeimer, who has led a majority of the City Council in pushing for efficiencies, sharply disagreed, calling the suggestion of an applicant shortage a crisis manufactured by those with a political agenda.

"The reality is there's a lot of great officers in really great departments who would love to work at Costa Mesa. They're there," Righeimer said. "The idea that there's only so many good officers available is self-inflicted."

He and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger called the notion of an applicant shortage nothing more than a red herring floated by their political opponents in advance of upcoming contract negotiations with the Costa Mesa Police Officers Assn. (POA), a collective-bargaining unit that represents police officers.

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