Commentary: Too many cops are leaving the CMPD

Recently the city of Costa Mesa made available four reports regarding the staffing and attrition of the Costa Mesa Police Department over the past few years (“Report: Departing cops cite political tensions, Feb. 26). These reports, now available on the city’s website, were generated in response to a demand by members of the City Council a few weeks ago.

The results are distressing.

One report shows a list of separations and hires for 2012 and 2013 and January 2014. During that 25-month period we had 26 departures — 10 resignations, 14 retirements and two discharges. During the same period we had 12 new hires — four academy graduates, six recruits and two laterals. Unfortunately, three (25%) of those new hires left after just a month or two.

Another report shows the recruitment activity for the CMPD from May 24, 2013, through Feb. 12. It showed 2,782 applications received; 188 applicants interviewed; 104 applicants selected for background checks; eight started the academy and zero hired.

As you can see, the process for identifying, screening and ultimately selecting good police officer candidates can be slow and time-consuming.

A third report shows 2011 to 2014 attrition. During that period, 43 sworn officers departed. Of those, based on my analysis of the data, the nearly 60% who either left for other jobs or retired gave as their reason for leaving “due to the political environment.”

Forty-two percent of those who left moved on to other agencies/cities and continue to work in law enforcement today, according to the report.

Several of those men and women left to jobs for less pay, according to a report in the Orange County Register (“With staffing at historic lows, ‘it’s like a ghost town’,” Feb. 26.). We recently lost one outstanding drug enforcement officer to a nearby agency. He generated tens of thousands of dollars in asset forfeiture revenue for the city each year. Now he is gone, using his expertise elsewhere in Orange County. One departed officer was named police officer of the year at his new agency. We didn’t just lose numbers; we lost some of the cream of our crop to those other agencies.

Eight officers who identified themselves as “retiring due to the political environment” averaged almost 26 years experience on the job, according to the city report. The loss of that experience and leadership is almost incalculable, particularly under the current circumstances.

The remaining document listed the entire CMPD roster in order of their retirement eligibility date. The first dozen on the list, including Chief Tom Gazsi, could retire any time. An additional five can retire this year, seven more in 2015 and five in 2016. If only half those eligible to retire this year do leave, when added to those officers currently known to be in the process of investigating other opportunities, it will create an almost insurmountable law enforcement crisis in our city.

This problem can be traced directly to Mayor Jim Righeimer’s attitude toward the CMPD and his attempt to bust the union. He and the council majority ignored professional advice — Management Partners, a consultancy, suggested a staff of 136 and interim Chief Steve Stavely recommended 140 to 144, according to the Orange County Register — on the staffing of the CMPD from the beginning.

He and the council majority voted to dump the ABLE (Airborne Law Enforcement) helicopter program; left police staffing levels so low the department was forced to temporarily abandon the school resource officer program; refused to let Gazsi begin hiring to fill existing and known future vacancies for more than a year; and, along with Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger, sued the Costa Mesa Police Officers Assn.

Although the roster mentioned above showed 114 officers, we actually are hovering near 100 officers available for duty today, according to last week’s Daily Pilot story.

Like Sherman’s relentless, scorched-earth “March to the Sea” during the Civil War, Righeimer’s legacy will be the destruction of one of the once-proud CMPD. The voters in Costa Mesa should let him and his majority know how they feel about this situation immediately and remember it when they mark their ballots in November.

GEOFF WEST publishes a local political blog, A Bubbling Cauldron. He lives in Costa Mesa.