Town Hall Wrap Up
SMALL, VOCAL GROUP
A small, but very focused and outspoken crowd of our neighbors attended councilwoman Wendy Leece's most recent Public Safety Town Hall last night in the north part of Costa Mesa. You can read Daily Pilot editor Bradley Zint's account of the meeting HERE.
Nearly three dozen people attended the meeting to hear Corporal Doug Johnson present crime statistics for the area and to give the audience information on the broader crime prevention challenges the Costa Mesa Police Department faces today as they attempt to keep the city safe from crimes. He reported that the area closest to our location last night had 1200 calls for service since January, for which 170 actually had reports written. The bulk of the crimes were burglaries - home, garage and vehicles - and petty thefts and ID thefts. He attributed those crimes mainly to "dopers", indicating that Costa Mesa has a lot of drug users looking to steal items that can be quickly turned into cash - jewelery, electronics, etc.
Apparently prostitution within our city continues to be a major problem. One resident told of having a van-load of hookers unloaded on our streets at the same place every Friday night, immediately adjacent to her office near the I-405 and Harbor Blvd. A recent trip to Singapore - where crime is punished promptly and severely - caused her to suggest we try a similar approach. Unfortunately, our current legal system prohibits prompt resolutions.
Johnson told us that we are getting good service from our current helicopter contract and, when a resident asked what happens if Huntington Beach cancels their program like we did, he explained that there are still other options - the Sheriff's Department, for example.
NEW CRIME STATS COMING ONLINE
He told us of pending new program to provide crime statistics online that may be available by the end of the year. Residents will be able to see crime patterns throughout the city. One resident expressed concern that crooks would have that information available to them so they'd know where to go to commit crimes. Johnson indicated that the police would be waiting for them.
Johnson spoke about the impact of the recent "early release" program that dumped 60+ criminals onto our streets - a very disproportionately large number when compared to neighboring cities. That number is growing at 6-10 criminals per month.
MUTUAL AID AND THE REVOLVING DOOR
He explained how the city provides police coverage and how mutual aid works with neighboring cities, emphasizing that Newport Beach is our most responsive partner fighting crime. He also bemoaned the revolving door that is our legal system, explaining that the police will apprehend a criminal, process him through the system, only to have him show up back on the streets within a matter of days. Activist Sue Lester told a personal story to emphasize that issue - where a bike thief she turned in ended up back in front of her home to harass her after getting out of jail in a matter of days.
NO MORE "MISTER NICE GUY"...
City Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch also attended this fifth edition of Leece's town halls. He gave us an overview of the plans being formed to deal with issues like homelessness and the associated crimes. The crowd didn't let him off easy, asking very pointed questions about specific kinds of crimes. Among the things Hatch told us was that Costa Mesa was done being "mister nice guy" when it comes to having homeless folks shipped to our city from other local venues. While homelessness is a regional problem, he told the audience that Costa Mesa will do its fair share, but will no longer absorb neighboring cities share of the problem.
MORE THAN OUR FAIR SHARE
Hatch explained, for example, that Costa Mesa has 26% of drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities in the county and that the City is working hard to "manage" that number but has significant restrictions because of state laws governing those facilities. If a residential home is occupied by 6 or fewer "clients" the City has no authority to control it. At last count Costa Mesa had 130 such facilities.
MORE THAN JUST THE CMPD
He emphasized that he expects every city department to participate in new methods of assisting the police department in keeping our city safe. He pointed to code enforcement as a very logical tool, and mentioned hiring two new code enforcement officers to work specifically on targeted areas of difficulty. For example, he has one code enforcement officer working specifically on those rehab homes.
Candidates for city council Harold Weitzberg and John Stephens attended and asked questions and absorbed the atmosphere of the evening. They actually listened to what the residents of the city had to say and asked some questions of their own.
The Community Emergency Response Team (C.E.R.T) was represented and passed out informational materials. Cindy Brenneman spoke briefly about their programs.
United Neighbors also had a table full of important materials and Diane Hill also spoke about their activities throughout the city.
I've attended all of these town hall events and this one, perhaps because of the intimate size of the group, seemed the most lively and engaged. Residents were persistent but respectful as they pushed Hatch and Johnson for answers. At one point during the discussion Weitzberg asked Hatch how much it would cost to hire a dozen "lateral" police officers - fully trained and experienced officers. The answer was around $1.5 million per year, including the load for benefits.
At the end of the evening Johnson opined that, under the leadership of Hatch, the city seems to be making progress with crime fighting initiatives, mentioning the use of new technologies specifically. Hatch chimed in with his mantra for fighting crime - "Go Extreme!" - looking for non-traditional ways to fight traditional problems.
KUDOS TO ALL
Thanks to Wendy Leece for another excellent event, and thanks to Corporal Doug Johnson and CEO Tom Hatch for attending and providing perspective and answers. The next such event is scheduled for later this month, on October 29th. I'll report more on that later.