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Split Newport Beach council votes to add police officer to city ranks

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A Newport Beach police car is parked outside a condominium complex where a man and a woman were found dead in April. A divided City Council voted Tuesday to authorize hiring another police officer.
(File Photo)

Newport Beach will gain another police officer following a narrow City Council decision Tuesday evening.

After competing PowerPoint presentations from Mayor Diane Dixon and Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill, the council voted 4-3 to bring the new officer onboard later this year and, until then, use $25,000 of the position’s base salary to fund overtime hours for existing personnel during the summer tourism season.

The addition will give the force 148 budgeted officer positions. O’Neill and council members Brad Avery and Marshall “Duffy” Duffield opposed the motion.

As rationale for adding another officer, Dixon pointed to five local homicides this year — the slayings of a couple and their housekeeper in February and a double homicide in a condominium in April.

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“We are seeing a steady level of high numbers of crime in a community of our size,” Dixon said. “Noah’s ark was built before the rains came, not after. We’ve got to be prepared.”

O’Neill’s presentation included numbers showing crime decreasing in the past five years.

“Any crime is a bad crime and we’ve got to stop it, but we are seeing the decreases,” he said. “We can’t just throw more police at something, especially if we’re seeing a decrease right now.”

O’Neill contended the addition of a police officer would create an unnecessary pension burden. Instead of authorizing another position with benefits, he suggested allocating the proposed base salary of a new officer — about $92,000 — entirely to overtime.

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The total cost of a new hire, including salary, benefits and equipment, would be about $147,000, according to a city staff report.

O’Neill’s proposal would authorize Police Chief Jon Lewis to immediately put more officers on overtime duties, without the delay of hiring and training a new officer.

Avery and Duffield supported that idea.

“The trouble I’m hearing is that you don’t just hire any person to be a policeman — it takes time,” Duffield said. “We don’t have time. Summer is here now.”

Councilman Kevin Muldoon made the “friendly suggestion” to incorporate summer overtime hours into Dixon’s proposal for a new officer. A few weeks ago, he also brokered the compromise for one officer position, down from Dixon’s initial request for two.

Some council members and residents who spoke questioned the use of overtime, saying too much could burn out the police force. Other residents, however, advocated for adding a position because they said there is not enough of a police presence on the streets.

“We’re perpetually told when we call for service that there is not enough manpower to come out, or they’ll say, ‘We’ll come when we can,’” said Denys Oberman. “And by that time, somebody’s been robbed, somebody’s had a heart attack, somebody’s bled out on the sidewalk because they got drunk, fell off the bike and their head is cracked.”

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