Laguna Beach boosts overtime pay, offers hiring incentives to deal with police department staffing shortage

Laguna Beach will offer overtime and hiring incentives to try to address a staffing shortage within its police department.
(Courtesy of Laguna Beach Police Department)

As cities around the nation face challenges in attracting and retaining qualified police officers and dispatchers, Laguna Beach will offer hiring and overtime incentives to try to remedy its immediate staffing issues.

Laguna Beach has budgeted for 55 sworn officers and 11 dispatchers, but currently the police department has just 43 officers who do not require supervision, referred to as mission-ready officers.

“Police agencies across Orange County and the nation are struggling to attract and retain officers due to the changing business and political environment,” Police Chief Jeff Calvert said at the Laguna Beach City Council meeting Tuesday. “The pool of qualified officers has decreased due to the mass resignations and retirements from the anti-police and ‘Defund the Police’ movements, changes in legislation that have placed more pressure and scrutiny on officers, and the unprecedented increase in inflation.

“Currently, we have three sworn vacancies. … Unfortunately, we have 43 functional officers who are capable of working patrol. We couldn’t have predicted that four police officers would be out on long-term injury when the summer began.”

The council unanimously approved a side letter agreement that grants double-time pay to employees who work overtime for the next two months.

A bonus of $15,000 is on the table for new hires through the end of the year. Those eligible for the hiring bonus would receive the first half at their time of hire, and they would see the rest of the money once they complete their first two years of service with the city.

Current members of the Laguna Beach Police Employees Assn. could also be rewarded for recruitment. An employee would receive $1,000 if an eligible referred employee is hired and an additional $1,000 at the end of the referred employee’s first year with the Laguna Beach Police Department.

The hiring and overtime incentives are expected to come at a cost of $100,000, the funds for which city staff said would be covered by the police department’s overtime budget and the general fund contingency account.

In addition to the officers out with long-term injury, the department has dealt with its own set of retirements and departures. Among them, Lt. Jim Cota retired in April after 28 years with the department. More recently, Capt. Rachel Johnson left Laguna Beach to become the police chief in Manhattan Beach.

Calvert also mentioned that a “wave of officers” had tested positive for COVID-19.

“Under my command, we’re not going to lower our hiring standards to fill positions, so as a community, we need to be competitive with other law enforcement organizations in Orange County to attract and retain the best and brightest,” Calvert said. “Our minimum deployment on each shift is four police officers, and currently, every functional officer, from patrol, detective, and even command staff, are filling vacant shifts to meet this minimum standard.”

Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen remarked that the staffing issues that have befallen the Laguna Beach Police Department are not unique to the city and are a nationwide problem.

“Hopefully, this will alleviate things, and then obviously, we’d get some more time to consider more permanent solutions here as we enter into negotiations, but hopefully, this will produce some results,” Whalen said.

Councilman George Weiss inquired about plans to retain qualified officers, noting the costs associated with training them. City Manager Shohreh Dupuis said related benefits would need to be discussed in upcoming negotiations.

At the request of Mayor Sue Kempf, Calvert gave an update on the status of park rangers who will soon be patrolling Laguna Beach beaches and parks as part of the city’s neighborhood and environmental protection plan.

The city has hired two park rangers, with one close to finishing the training program and the other about to get started in that capacity. Another full-time park ranger is scheduled to begin working at the end of the month. Calvert said the presence of park rangers would provide some relief for field officers from handling quality-of-life issues.

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