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Study Finds Oceanside’s Blue Line Too Thin

Times Staff Writer

Senior patrol officer Dale Wood was hired seven years ago by the Oceanside Police Department for one primary reason--to walk the streets and arrest criminals committing wrongs.

But recently, Wood says, he seems to be doing everything else but that.

“Every time something needs to be done, they pull people out of patrol,” Wood said. For the last seven weeks Wood has worked as a dispatcher, and, before that, he trained public service officers.

Each time Wood takes on another task, he says, the department’s weakness is exposed: Oceanside critically needs more police.

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Report Made Public

That has long been known to the city’s 139 sworn police officers, but it was made public Thursday when a report by an independent consultant critically described the police force as lacking manpower, direction and leadership.

The report was not viewed as an attack on the department; on the contrary, officers interviewed Friday said it supports the grievances they have expressed to City Hall.

“I’m glad to have it published,” said Acting Police Chief Michael Shirley. “It recognizes the fact that we need to make some internal adjustments and provides a road map for us to do so.”

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The city hired Hughes, Heiss & Associates, a management consultant firm based in San Mateo, to conduct the three-month, $35,000 study, said City Manager Ron Bradley. The consultants interviewed police leaders as well as the rank and file from April through June.

Unhappy at Support

The interviews revealed that many officers felt they received little support from City Hall and showed their discontent about lack of working space, leadership and long-range goals.

The report’s executive summary says: “The consensus view of managers, supervisors and employees from all levels of the Oceanside Police Department is that the department has come to a standstill and is experiencing key problems in virtually all operating and service areas.”

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Practically all of the problems cited can be traced to one major shortfall, according to Shirley.

“The fundamental problem is that we get a lot of calls for service and that we don’t have enough cops to handle them,” Shirley said. “That’s the bottom line.”

More Hiring Urged

As the first step toward correcting the deficiencies, the report recommends the hiring of 17 more patrol officers, six middle-level management officials and five dispatchers at an estimated cost of $1.4 million. Bradley said that, in anticipation of the consultants’ recommendations, the City Council set aside $1.325 million in the current operating budget to finance the new positions.

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The added patrol officers are needed to ease the workload of the patrol division, which is often burdened with extra assignments. The report urges that the patrol division be restored as the focus of the department rather than as a “dumping ground,” as it is now perceived by officers.

The report states that the strained patrol division’s “response times to emergency calls exceed reasonable levels, and uncommitted patrol time is insufficient to provide any level of targeted enforcement or crime-prevention activities during most shifts and days of the week.”

Major Concern

For Oceanside residents, as well as Shirley, that is a major concern.

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“Sometimes we can get to a trouble spot in a couple of minutes, but at peak hours, when we’re tied up, the arrival time starts growing and growing,” Shirley said. It is not uncommon, Shirley said, for officers to arrive at a troubled location 10 minutes after an emergency call is placed. That is twice as long as the consultant’s recommendation of five minutes.

The department’s organizational structure, because it lacks adequate middle-level management, fails to effectively monitor and utilize existing personnel, the report states. The lack of intermediate supervisors between the rank and file and the higher echelon restricts the chief from effectively running the department, the report finds.

A sustained, ambitious recruiting problem should ease the many problems associated with understaffing, but the tension between police and city officials may not disappear as quickly.

Questions Asked

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A questionnaire distributed to police personnel during the study asked: “The Police Department receives the support of the City Council. Do you agree or disagree with this statement?”

On a scale of 1 to 10, in which 1 indicated total agreement and 10, complete disagreement, the officers on the average responded 7.7.

Although responses to that question could have been influenced by the bitter labor negotiations that were going on with city leaders at the time officers were queried, the report states that such attitudes are deeply ingrained among officers.

In the questionnaire, officers expressed concern that City Council members and the city administration often meddled in enforcement affairs and advocated ill-conceived police programs, such as monitoring cruising and beach problems, while allowing drug dealing and violent crimes to go unaddressed.

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East Side Emphasis

“Cops like to go out and protect people and handle problems that are a genuine threat to the public safety,” said patrol Sgt. Eddie Morton, explaining that he and most of his colleagues believe more emphasis should be put on the city’s East Side rather than the beaches.

“We’re more concerned about the Oceanside resident on the East Side rather than the tourist from L.A. at the beach,” he said. “The City Council is only worried about what goes on west of Interstate 5. As far as they are concerned, the rest of the city can go to hell.”

Such disdain is discomforting for Bradley, the city manager.

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“I don’t think the perception of City Hall is accurate,” Bradley said. “But regardless, that perception does exist and that’s a major concern.”


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