A Huntington Beach woman is questioning why the police chief sent an officer to a non-injury car accident involving a councilman's wife.
Budget cuts forced police to stop taking reports at most minor collisions, and 15-year resident Heather Dillard asked in a recent council meeting whether Councilman Devin Dwyer's wife received special consideration.
At the Sept. 24 meeting, Dwyer said he called Police Chief Ken Small to ask him to have an officer take a report for his wife, Linda, who had just gotten in an accident. The councilman explained that he thought his wife might have been hurt.
Dillard, 40, who asked the council during public comments to stop making cuts to public safety, said she wants enough officers to take reports at all accidents, not just special cases.
"If I were to be in an accident, I would not have direct access to the chief's number," she said.
Small said it isn't unusual for him to respond when people call him directly, adding that he would help anyone who asked.
"Some might say, 'Gee, people are calling the chief to get service,' and I say, 'So what?'" Small said. "'I get to be open and accessible when people who know me have a problem.'"
Small said that while the policy serves as a guideline, the dispatchers do, on many occasions, send officers to non-injury accidents.
"I know we have a policy that says we don't respond, but there are a lot of times when we do send somebody," he said. "The dispatcher has the discretion."
He blamed the dust-up on politics.
"Personally, I think somebody is using this to embarrass Devin," Small said, adding that Dwyer is a friend from church. "And I just don't think it's appropriate to do that."
Dwyer, in an interview, asserted that Dillard is a "stooge" of the police union.
"They are the ones [who] are saying that's a special treatment because they feel I'm going to continue to make cuts," he said. "Am I gonna pay $200,000 an officer? No. They're overpaid and under-worked."
"He [Dwyer] doesn't even know me," Dillard countered. "How would he know that?"
Dillard denied being influenced by the police union and said she found out about the incident when Small mentioned that a friend of his called him for service on a non-injury collision during the Sept. 17 study session.
Small said he mentioned the incident during the session to illustrate services that were eliminated by budget reductions.
Dillard said she has some police officer friends, but none asked her to inquire about the accident or speak out.
Earlier this year, as part of budget cuts, the department stopped responding to or taking reports at non-injury accidents so that four officers and one sergeant could be assigned to patrol, said Lt. Mitch O'Brien.
The non-response policy is not universal. Dispatchers and officers respond when one party is combative or lacks legally required insurance, among other reasons.
"Every department across the city was required to come up with a certain number of budget cuts," O'Brien said. "We were facing over a million dollars in budget cuts. By cutting traffic officers by four officers and a sergeant, we stopped providing the service of non-traffic collision."
In recent years, as a result of the economy and thinning budgets, some cities have done away with responding to non-traffic accidents.
Costa Mesa stopped responding to non-injury accidents about a year and a half ago, unless there's a problem with the parties involved, said Lt. Mark Manley. Newport Beach and Fountain Valley continue to offer that service.
Small said during a City Council study session that his officers were not happy about the policy change.
"That was painful for the police department," he said at the session, adding that insurance companies rely on police reports.
With 43 sworn vacancies in the department, Small said that service isn't likely to come back.
Asked if he believes Dillard had a point and whether every resident should be offered the same service, Dwyer said that residents get excellent service but declined comment otherwise.
Resident Brian Smith said in an email that he finds Dwyer's behavior perplexing.
"I find it amazing that Devin Dwyer wants to strip public safety, but he has no problem calling the police chief to get a collision report for his wife after the department changed policy to no longer take non-injury accidents," Smith said. "This is also after he complained about getting parking tickets. His 'I'm better than everyone else' attitude must cease."
Asked whether contacting Small was an effort to get a personal favor, Dwyer said, "I challenge you to find one employee to validate that."
"Do I have people [who] don't agree with my decisions, and will they make a big deal?" he said. "Yes, of course, that always happens."
During that same council meeting, the City Council voted 4-3 to pass the budget and earmark $350,000 from reserve to hire two officers next year, if needed. Dwyer was one of three who voted against it.
"It's ironic and unsettling that he came out and said he's a friend of the chief and requested some special treatment for himself and his family, and then, moments later, he voted against adding two traffic officers that would be responsible for providing that service that is no longer offered, which is the exact same service he asked the chief to provide," Dillard said.