Thursday, May 28, 2015

We Need More Cops - Here's Why...

With the recent announcement of Captain Rob Sharpnack, a 22-year veteran of the Costa Mesa Police Department, as the new Chief of Police, the residents of our city can be encouraged that there will, once again, be stable, professional and competent leadership at the helm of that once-proud department.  The trick now is to give him the tools to do the job.  We all should be grateful to Interim Chief Ron Lowenberg, the consummate professional,  for helping to stay the course while this decision was being considered.

Things have fallen on hard times for the CMPD over the past several years.  Beginning with the economic downturn almost a decade ago, when the CMPD joined other city departments in scaling back to meet the financial realities of the moment, and on through to the current time, when ignorant, capricious, vindictive and ill-advised elected leadership has failed to acknowledge the needs of the department so necessary to provide a safe city.  That short-sightedness is now coming home to roost.

Following the retirement of legendary Chief Dave Snowden a dozen years ago - who had carried on and expanded the tradition of excellence established by former Chief Roger Neth - there has been a trail of successors in that job, some of whom were outstanding and others not-so-much.  Steve Staveley served the city twice as Interim Chief and brought more than four decades of exemplary law enforcement leadership to the assignments.  He left the last time, four years ago, after having had enough of the interference and micro-managing of the elected leaders.  He described the council majority at that time in his lengthy departure letter to the men and women of the CMPD, HERE, as, "incompetent, unskilled and unethical".  Members of that council majority remain today.
Former Chief Tom Gazsi, after three decades with the Newport Beach Police Department, took over the helm of the CMPD nearly four years ago in the midst of turmoil caused by the toxic atmosphere created by the above-mentioned elected leadership that chased more than four dozen officers out of the department to earlier-than-anticipated retirement or to other jurisdictions.  His department was disemboweled by the policies of the elected leadership.  They shut down the A.B.L.E. helicopter program - a joint venture with the City of Newport Beach and the model for ALL municipal airborne programs country-wide.  Their actions forced the elimination of specialty units, like the Narcotics Squad, which had taken thousands of pounds of drugs off our streets and was, in fact, a profit center for the City by accounting for millions in asset forfeiture dollars.  Staffing policies forced the reduction of the Gang Unit and the Detective Bureau, premium assignments that most officers covet.  We once had a dozen motorcycle officers patrolling our streets, keeping us safe, but we now have only two, and have at least a half-dozen motorcycles sitting in storage with no staff to operate them.  For several years Costa Mesa police officers led Orange County in the number of DUI arrests - an important element of public safety in a town with so many bars and liquor stores. Officer Kha Bao, alone, accounted for more than 400 such arrests one year.  Today, because of the diminished staffing levels, those numbers have dropped off a cliff and our streets are not as safe.
Gazsi, currently the Deputy Chief of the Los Angeles Port Police and recently named Acting Chief of that department, accepted that assignment late last year after apparently receiving little support for initiatives designed to shore-up and re-build the CMPD.  A resident's Public Records Requests recently unearthed a couple documents that shed a great deal of light on the battles the CMPD has been fighting.  For example, more than a year ago Gazsi provided CEO Tom Hatch an in-depth analysis of the attrition experienced by the CMPD in recent years and a detailed road map toward resolving many of the issues, which was apparently never even acknowledged, much less acted upon.

Those requests also turned up a report from a meeting last October in which nearly two dozen people met in our Emergency Operations Center to discuss the current conditions regarding probationers and parolees in Costa Mesa.  Attending from the City were most of the CMPD command staff, members of Code Enforcement and representatives of the CEO's Office.  Also in attendance were more than a dozen representatives of county and state probation and parole organizations.  The results of the discussions at that meeting are breath-taking.  Reviewing the report we learned the following: (the bold emphasis is mine)
  • Parole offenders are placed in the county of their residence (before incarceration) and it IS NOT a violation of parole to be temporarily or permanently homeless.
  • While offenders are not generally placed in sober-living homes, if a condition of their parole includes treatment for chemical dependency, some offenders will seek such treatment with a residential option - like a sober-living home.
  • There has been an observed rise in offender caseload since the implementation of AB109 in 2011.
  • Offenders acknowledge that conducting criminal activity, especially drug sale/use, is more desirable in Costa Mesa now than in previous years due to the perceived lower risk of arrest and the greater prevalence of drugs and related offenders in the community.
  • Offenders verbalize their understanding that CMPD is understaffed and sightings of police officers in the community is less frequent.
  • Increasing numbers of offenders are seen around a popular Costa Mesa shopping center area, described as "prison yard-like" conditions.  Offenders openly engage in drug transactions.
  • Offenders are being more visible during daylight hours, as well as areas previously perceived as "hot" due to police presence.  Offenders are less cautious and more brazen in their criminal activity.
  • There has been a dramatic rise in heroin use among probation and parole offenders and some of them report that Costa Mesa has had a major influx in the availability of heroin and an increase in the heroin drug trade.  This includes juvenile offenders.
  • Based on observations and conversations, there has been a marked shift in the criminal demographic and attitude in Costa Mesa in the last couple years.  This is largely due to a perceived visible increase in the number of criminal offenders in the community and the perceived reduction of CMPD resources to effectively deter criminal activity.
This information actually does not surprise me, since we've heard many similar anecdotal reports from residents and friends in law enforcement for a couple years.  Crime is up and folks are afraid.

During the Snowden era the CMPD was staffed with more than 160 sworn officers, had a full array of specialty assignments and was considered a destination department - a place where experienced officers  sought to work.  Today, the flow has reversed.  The policies of the current elected leadership majority created an artificially-contrived staffing level more than 15% below the level recommended by the consultants hired by the City to do an assessment of the organization, and as recommended by Staveley, Gazsi and Snowden.  The elected leaders pegged their staffing level at 125 - an absolutely unworkable number.  Today the authorized strength is 136 officers, but five of those are "grant positions", with a shelf life about to expire within the next year or so.  There are 26 open sworn positions in the CMPD following the naming of Sharpnack as Chief, with more vacancies on the way as more officers depart for other venues and some senior officers retire.  Due to staff vacancies and injuries, fewer than 100 officers are available for duty.  Today we have large sections of our city being patrolled exclusively by very junior officers much of the time.  Despite the best efforts of the Human Resources Department and the CMPD staff assigned to recruitment to provide transfusions of new officers, we simply cannot keep up with the hemorrhaging.

There was a push to attempt to sweeten the pot to attract Reserve Officers, but that's a dying breed.  We have NOT been successful recruiting people into those slots, despite a dramatic increase in the salary level demanded by the council majority, who arbitrarily just plucked a number out of the air at one council meeting.

We have NOT been successful recruiting officers from other departments.  Law enforcement is a very close brotherhood - and they all can read.  The men and women of the Costa Mesa Police Association have been sued by Mayor Steve Mensinger and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and have been working without a contract for a year.  Negotiations - without those two council members participating because of the conflict - have been sporadic, at best.  That uncertainty has also affected our ability to recruit.

As mentioned above, the demand for policing has NOT decreased, but has actually increased.  The proliferation of sober-living homes, and what appears ot be a related increase in drug and property crimes; the increase in numbers of probationers and parolees as a result of state laws; the probability of Medical Marijuana dispensaries being permitted in the city and, very likely, the passage of initiatives for recreational marijuana use next year state-wide next year, all increase the demand for solid, pro-active policing.  Today the CMPD cannot provide the coverage necessary for our current situation, much less the anticipated increase in demand.  Overtime hours to cover shifts are taking a huge toll on the staff.

We are just a few weeks away from approval of the 2015/2016 Municipal Budget.  In its preliminary form there is NO PROVISION for increase police staffing.  In fact, the current budget document shows a NET DECREASE in staff, which is no surprise to me, considering the hostile attitude held by the majority on the City Council toward law enforcement in this city.  However, there is still time for the public to speak out and DEMAND more resources be made available to Chief Sharpnack and his command staff to fight the rising threats in this city.

There are several ways to provide more funding for police - and public safety generally - in the current budget by simply re-prioritizing.  For example, there is currently $4 million earmarked for the proposed Neighborhood Community Center/Library project.  As witnessed a year ago, when Mensinger yanked 60% of the funding for that project at the last minute to replace brand new landscaping near his neighborhood, the library project is apparently NOT a pressing community need in the minds of the council majority, so should be shelved, at least this year, so more public safety resources can be funded.

The current council majority has consistently put potholes before public safety.  They constantly crow about what a great job they're doing paving our streets.  This year the budget contains more than $22 million for Capital Improvement Projects.  Certainly, all of us like nice, new streets, but some of that funding could be diverted for the next couple years to help fund public safety staffing and other resources.  I'm not suggesting abandoning those projects - just re-prioritizing our requirements.

The City should add AT LEAST a half dozen positions to the authorized strength of the CMPD this year - remember, we're going to lose those grant cops soon - and MUST do what it takes to get a contract with the CMPA immediately.  Lame duck councilman Gary Monahan MUST STOP being an obstructionist to that process and do the job we're paying him the big bucks to do.

If we fail to provide Chief Sharpnack the tools - the manpower and technology - to do the job, Costa Mesa will become a destination, not for those upwardly-mobile young families we hear so much about, but for criminals of many stripes.  Public safety MUST come first. 

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Anonymous Arthur Nern said...

They don't care. They will eventually move to Newport to be near their bosses. No safety problems there.

5/28/2015 01:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Teresa Drain said...

The $4 Million proposed for the "renovation" (aka demolition) of the Neighborhood Center and expansion of the Library is only the beginning.

Did you know that if that project is approved, next year's cost of the project balloons to include $18 Million in fiscal year 2016-2017? The truth: the cost is $22 Million for the whole project. See Item #112 on page 315 of the report (it is on page 360 of 409 total pages):

We need a library expansion, but do we need a $22 Million dollar library expansion?

5/28/2015 02:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Mike McNiff said...

ignorant, capricious, vindictive and ill-advised elected leadership... i think you may have left a few words out there. After all, isn't the brand strong?

5/28/2015 02:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

I'm sick and tired of this crap. I'm sick and tired of tweekers outside every night. I'm sick and tired of watching drug transactions on 19th Street. I'm sick and tired of the speeding up and down all our streets. Righeimer and Mensinger want to prove they can bust a union, so the residents are placed at risk in this very dangerous game. Does Righeimer care that we have families here to protect? NO! Does Righeimer care that our streets are now dangerous due to increased drunk drivers? No! Does Righeimer care that our property values may soon start to suffer due to the crime? No! Righeimer doesn't care about the residents, because our property taxes are lower than the new ones he hopes will move in. If you don't like it, he will gladly replace you with someone paying a higher property tax. Costa Mesa is now known as the "go to" for heroine. Great!

Same thing with our fire department. Station 6 may be closing, which means no support on the north side of the 405 freeway. Station 1 is in dire need of massive repair. We have half our beautiful new ambulances sitting gathering dust because we can't hire anyone to drive them. We must use CARE Ambulance because they pay Righeimer for the contract. Driving our own ambulances would save residents money...but nooooo...we can't do that. Can anyone say "greased palms?" We are short paramedic support also. Everytime there is a call, one paramedic is available, but another must be called from another station. This is pathetic.

I've had enough. Costa Mesa really needs to get rid of Righeimer in 2016. Hopefully Ramos won't make it on the council so Righeimer won't have a puppet to control. Please let's vote them out so we can get Costa Mesa back on track.

5/28/2015 04:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Heather Somers said...

Thank you Geoff for presenting the concise issues before us. Sadly. will remain status quo until the 3-vote stronghold can be broken. Even sadder is that Gary has known and voted for a strong police department In the past ..I seriously don't know why he has lost his backbone to support the city he has represented for more than a dozen years. Rob has his work cut out for him to change council direction and staff to the level appropriate for a city our size.

5/28/2015 08:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Teresa Drain said...


Six months ago, Rig squeaked out 47 more votes than Jay Humphrey, and we have him through NOVEMBER 2018. Mensinger will have to vie for his seat in November 2016. He is already amassing money from the same donors that placed Rig back on council.

Only 35,286 votes were cast - since we had 2 seats available, that means only 17,643 Costa Mesa voters decided the outcome that we are ALL experiencing now.

Not only do we need to vote, we need to WAKE UP COSTA MESA and get our neighbors out to vote as well.

5/28/2015 09:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Tom Egan said...

The Pot Stirrer has presented a well-reasoned and -resourced indictment of the black hats.

In earlier times, such attacks on public safety would have justified the perpetrators being tarred, feathered, and ridden out of town on a rail.

What more could you do if you wanted to destroy a small city such as Costa Mesa? Well, you could borrow from any number of anti-city policies our Council majority -- Mensinger, Righeimer, Monahan -- has enacted.

5/28/2015 09:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Arthur Nern said...

Lots of local sellouts support Riggy and Mensy as they dismantle Costa Mesa.
Remember their names as they try to worm their way onto committees and contracts.
Stop Mensy in 2016.

5/29/2015 01:01:00 AM  
Blogger Honeyman said...

Three seats will be up for grabs in 2016. Not only our so-called "Mayor", but Gary is termed out and Sandy will be up for re-election as well. 2 out of 3 is essential, but a sweep would be preferred, only to watch Riggy squirm on the dais for the next 2 years...should he stay thru his full term.

5/29/2015 07:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Muffin Top Bob said...

Has anybody seen Gary lately? He looks horrible, I can't tell if he's a council member or one of the hundreds of homeless that wander around the South end of the City. All those late nights at his crappy bar are catching up to him, he looks as though he's always hungover. Can't wait until his run on the City Council is over.

5/29/2015 02:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Muffin Top Bob said...

I hope there is at least one detective available in the bureau to work on the stabbing death that occurred Saturday night up in the North end of the City. Just add this to the violent crime statistics for the year.

5/31/2015 09:41:00 AM  

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