Chief Gazsi Addresses The Chamber
POSITIVE BREAKFAST MEETING
Last Thursday Costa Mesa Police Chief Tom Gazsi addressed a group of civic and business leaders at the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce breakfast and, according to several reports from the event (I did not attend), left the audience with a generally positive view of the future. The following observations are a paraphrased homogenization of several reports from the scene.
CRIME RATE IS UP
Gazsi discussed the rising crime rate, indicating that certain types of crimes are going up - property crimes, in particular are up 14% over last year - but that our overall crime rate is still lower than in the early and mid 1990s.
SHRUNKEN FORCE - MORE CRIMINALS
He told the group that the department has been diminished by 20% and that our city, along with virtually every other in the state, has been impacted by what he referred to as "AB109 releases" - criminals released from California prisons due to overcrowding. He told the crowd that last year at this time we had 60 officers on patrol and that number is down to 50 this year. The scheduling change he implemented in February, blending four 10-hour days and three 12-hour days, has helped.
SRO PROGRAM WILL RETURN... SOMETIME
He told the group that the School Resource Officer (SRO) program - Officer Jess Gilman shown here - that was suspended near the end of the school year will be reinstated when staffing levels permit. He apparently didn't give any specific date when that would occur. Presently there are 11 officers out with "on-duty injuries" and my sources elsewhere tell me that the actual total number of officers nor presently on duty for any reason may be 14 or higher. The SRO program is a critical element in the programs to head-off gang activities in the city, so we can't be without it for very long. (photo credit to the Orange County Register)
As an aside, Chief Gazsi had authorized three separate recruitment efforts - as was reported here in an earlier post. The City is currently looking for experienced officers for lateral transfers, Reserve officers who have completed the required academy training and - until very recently - brand new recruits who would be hired, attend the police academy then be assigned to a training officer. That particular recruitment effort has been suspended. It had generated over 1,000 applicants - many more than it is possible to properly screen, particularly since the CMPD is not authorized to hire ANY full-time officers until the issue of a second pension tier is resolved. However, the hopper is full if and when that situation changes. Keep in mind that, in the case of new recruits, we're looking at more than a year before any of them hit the streets as fully-qualified officers and that the CMPD anticipates as many as 20 retirements within the next 18 months.
Back to the breakfast...
GRATEFUL FOR THE HELICOPTER
Chief Gazsi expressed gratitude for the use of the Huntington Beach helicopter, even though it's in a limited capacity. He explained to the audience that, because he has spent virtually all his law enforcement life working in Newport Beach before becoming Chief of Police in Costa Mesa, the A.B.L.E. program was always part of his professional experience so he clearly understood the value of that program and was sorry to see it be disbanded. He apparently mentioned visionary chiefs before him - Roger Neth, Dave Snowden and Bob McDonnell of Newport Beach - who created, nurtured and understood the value of that program.
Gazsi apparently was very complimentary to his boss, City CEO Tom Hatch and for the support he gets from the City Council. He mentioned how valuable it is to have men like Interim Fire Chief Tom Arnold - also a Newport Beach veteran with whom he had a long working relationship - as peers on the job.
He apparently also spoke of new technological advances that will soon be launched to help provide the community with more information more rapidly. Some of those were a "crime mapping" tool to show crime hot spots in real time and a tool that displays crime statistics by geographic area, both of which will be available to residents for online access. He also mentioned something about software called NIXEL that provides an application for smart phones that will permit receipt of alerts by the public. I may be getting this garbled since it's coming from a few sources, but it all sounds pretty exciting and forward-thinking.
WE'RE LUCKY TO HAVE HIM
Personally, I think Costa Mesa is very lucky to have Tom Gazsi as our police chief. Since taking the job a year ago he has become a calming influence on the department, has implemented structural changes that seem to more effectively utilize the available manpower and has shown the mature, strong leadership so necessary during this stressful time.