They want more than 'just the facts'

COSTA MESA — Interim Police Chief Steve Staveley has a message for his successor: "You may hate me for this, but do it."

After all, the Costa Mesa community might just get used to these "Chief's Office Hours" on Tuesdays, where residents can meet with the chief on anything they want to discuss.

"It's just one of those outreach things you got to do," Staveley said Wednesday, the morning after hosting his first open-door session, where half a dozen residents showed up.

Staveley said he's writing a memo, adding to it a couple sentences here and there, on what ideas he has for the next chief, particularly in community outreach.

Falling right in line with, but not inspired by, Costa Mesa City Hall's own push for transparency in government and open communications, Staveley could be changing community expectations of the city's next top cop.

"What are the police for?" Staveley said. "You've seen that show. You know, 'Just the facts, ma'am.' It's not the right model. That's problem-oriented policing … community building is a law-enforcement tool."

Where former Police Chief Chris Shawkey was privately criticized as being aloof and not visible in the community, Staveley is bringing in practices he started in La Habra as its police chief.

Staveley came up with his office hours' policy there after the public started complaining about his officers at City Council meetings. It wasn't that residents wanted to talk to the council, Staveley said, they just wanted someone to hear them and address their concerns.

"It's just another way you get a feel for the community," he said.

So how did his first encounter with residents go?

"I would say my experience [Tuesday] leads me to believe the experience will be typical to La Habra," he said.

Basically that means people will come in on all sorts of topics, from medical marijuana or comments on diversity, to questions on where to go in City Hall for other business. Often residents have approached him with issues not related to police work, he said.

"They just want to know they know someone in the Police Department," Staveley said.

Residents offered suggestions on how police could increase community outreach, like having volunteers do vacation checks on homes, given that programs like the citizens' academy folded last year as part of department-wide cuts over the last three years.

Staveley said he'll consider it, but much of it may be out of his hands.

City officials disclosed last month that as part of citywide restructuring, they are considering laying off more than 20 police officers to "right size" the department. The cuts could take the department to 125 officers from the more than 146 there now in a city of nearly 110,000.

With that much staffing, community-oriented policing takes a backseat, Staveley warned.

"It's impossible," he said. "You can do law enforcement, but you can't do outreach with .9 cops per 1,000 residents, or 1.1 cops per 1,000 residents."

The chief's open office hours are from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Police Department, 99 Fair Drive. Residents are seen on a first-come, first-serve basis.

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