The Huntington Beach Police Department plans in the coming months to reduce its patrol officers, respond to fewer accident calls and refer residents to file minor crime reports online as part of a departmental reorganization to make up for budget cuts and a lack of overtime funding.
Starting in June, the department plans to reduce the number of per-shift patrol officers from 10 to eight, except on Fridays and Saturday afternoons and evenings, the busiest times for the department, said Capt. Russ Reinhart.
Maintaining the full 10 officers for every shift requires overtime pay, which the department will be unable to cover because of budget restrictions and diminished staffing.
"This isn't something we want to do or look forward to doing ... " Reinhart said. "But this is where we're at. These are all effects of past budget cuts and, unfortunately, we're looking at more budget cuts in the future."
Over the last few years, as budget cuts were put into place, the department had to close the gap by moving gang unit detectives to the field for patrol and stop investigating some minor financial and property crimes.
"We really have nobody left to take out without eliminating core services, like investigating domestic violence," Reinhart said.
As a result, the department is resorting to reducing the number of officers on the street.
Reinhart said he doesn't believe crime will increase as a result of reduction, but it will take longer to catch criminals.
"For burglars and thieves, it's a matter of time until they get caught," he said. "It's just going to be longer until they get caught, and there will be more victims."
The reduction of number of officers on patrol means that not every accident or crime will be investigated.
The department will no longer respond to noninjury accidents, Reinhart said.
Police in Huntington Beach respond to about 3,000 traffic accidents a year, about 2,000 of which are noninjury.
The department will also start pushing its Web-based crime reporting tool, where residents who aren't able to get an officer to take a crime report for vandalism or other petty crimes can do it themselves online.
Those reports will not be investigated but are a way for the department and residents to track small crimes, Reinhart said.
"All this stuff we would like to be able to do. We see it as an important service," he said. "Unfortunately, that's the kind of stuff we just can't keep doing without the staffing level."
Although the City Council has authorized 235 officers for the department, it is only funding 206. That number might also come down with anticipated future budget cuts, Reinhart said. Huntington Beach has one officer per 1,000 residents, compared with Seal Beach, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, which average 1.7 officers per 1,000.
Councilman Devin Dwyer said he's not happy with the reduction of officers in the field, but said it's mainly linked to increasing pension costs.
If employees contribute more, he said, the city would be able to hire more officers.
Councilman Joe Shaw said high pensions are not the reason; it's the bad economy.
"To say the employees did it is disingenuous," he said.