Council greenlights police services study

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The City Council this week approved a contract to have Matrix Consulting Group study police services in Seal Beach. The project would include an audit of how the police allocate their resources.

The council voted unanimously to authorize the city manager to sign the contract.

The contract is estimated to cost a maximum of $40,000, according to the staff report prepared by Seal Beach Police Commander Phil Gonshak. Interim Chief Joe Miller, who will retire later this year, presented the report to the council, but commended Gonshak for his work on the report.

An additional $4,400 will be budgeted to cover unforeseen costs.

The money is available in the city’s Support Services fund, according to the report.

“Once the draft report and implementation plan has been reviewed and any modifications have been completed, we will present the final report to the City Council,” the report said.

The contract for the study comes at a time when crime appears to be increasing. The police chief is asking the city to hire more officers and the City Council is looking for money to hire them. At a recent coffee chat, District One Councilwoman Ellery Deaton said Chief Miller is requesting four more officers be hired.

The SBPD recently released data showing that so-called Part 1 crimes increased 29 percent from 2016 to 2017. Several neighboring cities also reported increased crimes.

The report also addressed several changes in California law that have reportedly made law enforcement more challenging, including moving felons to county jails, changing some felonies to misdemeanors and the recent legalization of marijuana.

Bruce Bennett, of Old Town, raised the same issues, but also raised concerns about cyber attacks and the security of water and utility lines.

He thought the police services survey should also address those issues.

Joyce Parque, a frequent council critic, proposed closing the city jail as a way to pay for more police officers.

After the meeting, Miller said he understood Parque’s concerns, but said that police work is not just about numbers. He pointed out that having the jail effects officer deployment. He said booking a prisoner at county could take as much as 90 minutes.

(The issue is not new to Seal Beach. Police Chiefs Jeff Kirkpatrick, Robert Luman and Joe Stilinovich who each made cases to the City Council in favor of keeping the city jail during their time in office.)

This is not the first police services study in Seal Beach history. As Gonshak’s report pointed out, Seal Beach commissioned a survey in 2004. “At the time of the PSS, SBPD was budgeted at a ratio of 1.49 officers per 1000 residents (comparative cities were 1.54/1000).”

Miller told the council that he was here in Seal Beach when the 2004 study was done and he didn’t know about it.

According to Deaton, residents were not asked for their input during the 2004 study. She said residents want enhanced services. (So-called enhanced services include the Neighbor 4 Neighbor program, parking enforcement, bike patrols and walking police beats.)

Deaton also advised Miller to have civilians on the project steering committee.

District Two Councilman Thomas Moore wanted the study to look at software and technology as well as staffing.

Deaton said she wanted to know where officers are needed rather than a number.

Seal Beach resident Robert Goldberg, a local activist and city budget watcher, expressed his support for the project in a letter to council members.

However, Goldberg told the Sun that the staff report’s emphasis on the number of officers per 1,000 residents “implies that these should be used to determine proper staffing numbers. This ignores the caveat from the 2004 PSS consultant that ‘OEC (consultant) does not subscribe to using officers/1000 population as any real indicator of adequate staffing.”

Jim Burch, vice president, strategic initiatives, of the Police Foundation in Washington, D.C., said there was no one answer to questions about officer staffing. (The Washington organization should not be confused with the Seal Beach Police Foundation.)

“For example, there are some agencies in the US that in addition to providing law enforcement services, they also provide fire and EMS services, so an officer can handle a police call and then immediately go on a fire call. Other differences in population, crime, geography/size of jurisdiction also have an impact. When we do studies for agencies to help them project their needs in terms of officers, we look at these factors to help mathematically come up with an estimate. There is also a significant difference between West coast and East coast agencies in terms of style of policing and the number of officers—the east coast typically has much higher officers to citizens ratios. It’s quite interesting to think about,” Burch said.

According to the Gonshak report, the 2004 Seal Beach police service study recommended cutting the department to 30 sworn officers based on calls for services. The report said the evaluation did not include data on officer initiated activity and did not take “into account our astronomical rise in beachside tourism during the summer months.”

According to Gonshak’s report, the 2004 report recommended that the detective bureau needed three detectives and one sergeant as at that time the bureau did not have a heavy caseload and had a low closure rate.

According to the Gonshak report, the 2004 study recommended hiring community service officers to theoretically respond to basic calls for service (CFS) and traffic accidents. “Unfortunately, this recommendation resulted in CSOs being hired as part of the recommendation for parking (along with Police Aides); however, the fully recommended numbers of CSOs were never hired, nor were CSOs ever utilized for the CFS function,” the Gonshak report said.

Seal Beach currently has 33 sworn officers, or 1.35 for every 1,000 residents, according to the report.

According to the report, Seal Beach Police officials want the contractor to “make recommendations based on both data and opinions obtained during study sessions and/or meetings with Seal Beach residents, City staff and City Council.”

The project will have a timeline of 14 weeks, or 340 hours, according to the Gonshak report.

City staff and the council have been looking at finding ways to pay for more police officers.

According to Gonshak’s report, the purpose of the 2004 study was to make the Seal Beach Police Department a “core service,” rather than one that provided such programs.

“Even while maintaining these enhanced services, which many residents now expect, we will field complaints for lack of visibility, lack of foot patrols and other portions of enhanced services, which the City Council removed in 2004,” the report said.

Deaton suggested the consultant’s recommendations should be based on jobs and neighborhoods.

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