Police could lose 21 full-time employees

If the Costa Mesa Police Department bears the brunt of budget cuts aimed at saving the city some $8 million, the public will see the effects in everything from fewer officers on the streets to fewer solved cases and public programs, Police Chief Chris Shawkey said Monday.

“It’s hard to picture the future, how it’s going to impact the Police Department. What I want to emphasize though, there’s going to be some level of service lost,” Shawkey said. “You can’t do the same amount of work with fewer people. Some things are going to be cut.”

City leaders are considering cutting 51 full-time city positions, or reducing them to part-time, and eliminating another 26 part-time positions from the municipal payroll. Of those, 21 full-time positions and nine part-time positions would come from the Police Department, according to a city report.

“We’re a family and this hurts. These are people who’ve worked together for years and years and years, and it’s really a shock,” Shawkey said.

The city is facing a $16.4-million budget shortfall midway through the fiscal year.

Sales tax revenues and hotel tax revenues are both less than last year. Costa Mesa may also keep about 70 unfilled positions vacant.

Among the positions proposed to be cut: three sworn officers and one sergeant. The sergeant in question was already scheduled to retire and the three officers were inactive or already off the force for various reasons and their position will not be re-filled, Shawkey said.

The department could cut two crime scene specialists, nine community service specialists and a civilian investigator.

Without people in those slots, uniformed officers will have to pick up the slack, meaning more paperwork and less time to respond to calls from residents.

Where officers may use overtime to fill out reports from the day’s calls, they might just have to come in earlier to do them instead of being on patrol or enforcing traffic laws, the chief said.

Police may stop taking reports for some incidents altogether, such as non-injury traffic collisions, he said.

Officers and detectives alike will have to process more reports and incidents. Detectives’ caseloads may increase, allowing them less time per case.

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen it in my nearly 30 years of doing this,” Shawkey said. “I’ve been through similar situations in shorter duration. But this has gone on longer than I’ve ever seen.”

The city asked for dramatic cuts last year as well. The department folded its narcotics unit and offered incentives for officers to retire and gave other employees furloughs.

The city is scheduled to address contracts with police employees later this year.

Salaried police employees, those ranked lieutenant and higher, are not being considered for cuts.

“That’s one thing you can’t give up, supervision,” Shawkey said. “I think we’re at the right level of supervising.”

City Manager Allan Roeder did not return calls seeking comment.

The City Council will discuss the potential cuts at a special meeting at 4:30 p.m. today.

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