Mayor: Costa Mesa could lay off cops

COSTA MESA — More than 20 sworn police officer positions could be eliminated as part of the austerity measures sweeping City Hall, city officials said Wednesday.

City and police officials said talks on restructuring the department continually focus on reducing the number of sworn officers from 146 to 125.

The reductions, which the City Council budget committee is said to be reviewing, would be made with layoffs and not filling vacant positions.

"We're taking a hard look on how we can restructure the Police Department and provide the excellent service that we have," said Mayor Gary Monahan.

Monahan equated the idea of cuts to the Orange County Fire Authority's proposal to take on the city's firefighting while possibly closing one station and reducing minimum staffing in the city at any given time.

"It's the same discussion, the same analysis, just a different department with different parameters," he said. "We're looking all across the board because we can't afford what we have."

Four officers are expected to be let go since Costa Mesa elected to dissolve its police helicopter program, AirBorne Law Enforcement, and three through the city's outsourcing efforts approved March 1.

Monahan emphasized that talks of police layoffs are only hypothetical and there could be few to no layoffs at all.

City officials are waiting for Irvine-based Management Partners, Inc. to submit its suggestions on city restructuring, he said.

Management Partners was brought in after the City Council approved spending $200,000 to bring in outside consultants to help Chief Executive Tom Hatch, the city manager, reorganize the city last month. Hatch indicated at last week's council meeting that he may request additional money.

Last week, the city issued more than 200 layoff notices to other city employees indicating they could be let go in six months if officials can find a private company to fill their jobs.

With city leaders projecting growing pension costs, no jobs are necessarily safe, the mayor said, adding, "There's really not a lot of sacred cows anymore."

Most officers' compensation goes into six figures when you add their base salary, overtime, benefits and pensions.

If the city lets go of that many, Monahan said, the city could feasibly bring back more part-time employees or civilians.

In recent years, the department has shed many of its civilians and part-time employees, leaving officers to sometimes take on their responsibilities, such as non-emergency incident reports and answering phones at the front desk. Many traffic accidents go without police reports now because there isn't the staffing to do it.

The city folded its narcotics unit in 2008 and could also reduce its traffic unit, officials said.

Some of the department's specialized units, such as gangs and Special Enforcement Detail, would have to be reexamined, Monahan said.

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