Despite some pushback from the City Council, the Huntington Beach Police Department will be allowed to hire civilians to do some of the clerical work now handled by sworn officers.
Council members voted Monday to add the position of community services officer to the city's classification plan in order to keep sworn officers off desk work, allowing them more time in the field and for investigations, according to Police Chief Ken Small.
The item passed 4-3, with Councilmen Joe Carchio, Joe Shaw and Jim Katapodis dissenting.
The proposed police budget for the upcoming fiscal year lists two community services officers under the department's investigations division.
According to Small, police officers and detectives cost up to $174,870 annually while the new positions are estimated to cost as much as $93,244 each. These figures include benefits.
A somewhat-heated debate broke out between Small and Carchio over whether more officers should be hired instead of having civilians help with paperwork.
"You're down 30 police officers at your current staffing level, but you got a whole lot of other police officers doing work that was done previously by non-sworn staff," Small said. "And that's detracting them from their ability to make arrests, to investigate crimes, to write search warrants and do all of the other things that you pay these police officers to do."
Council members said they realize the Police Department has been understaffed for the past five years, but Katapodis and Carchio argued that the salary was too high for the proposed position and it would be better to hire a sworn officer anyway.
"If you had policemen in that position and you needed them to be on the street, you can pull from those two positions because they are sworn officers," Carchio said. "It's hard for me to grasp why you wouldn't want to fill positions with police officers before you went to non-sworn officers. It's kind of like the education system: Why would you hire a teacher's aide if you didn't have teachers?"
Shaw said he likes the concept of having civilians help officers with office tasks, but had problems with the title of the position and also said the pay was too high.
He said he would rather there be four positions for the same cost and preferred they be called by a title other than officer.
"Call them a civilian investigation specialist," Shaw said. "Anything like that would be better."