Commentary: I see issues with CMPD hiring

Re. "Police: Politics harming recruitment," Aug. 11: I have refrained from commenting on the inner workings of the city and the Police Department for many months since I retired.

To be honest, I didn't want to subject my family to the mudslinging that is all too common in Costa Mesa today. With that said, and in my opinion, the latest comments from Mayor Jim Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger [regarding police officer recruiting] are misleading, and I think the record needs to at least be accurate.

There is a significant issue with attracting quality personnel to the department, and there has been shortly since Righeimer and Mensinger were elected and appointed, respectively. The department has also been experiencing an exodus that is unprecedented. While there are a variety of reasons, it would be unreasonable to believe there isn't a connection between the tenor the City Council has set, under the tutelage of the current majority, and the personnel difficulties the Police Department has been and is facing.

To provide some basic background, I have been a life-long Republican, and I recently retired after over 27 years of service to the city. I also am a realist and recognize that the economic issues have necessitated changes in the salaries and benefit packages.

It is not the changes in salaries and benefits that are causing such a huge exodus of experienced personnel and the lack of quality lateral officers and applicants, it is the rhetoric-filled comments by members of the City Council that many times are lacking the veracity expected of elected officials.

The employees are not the enemy of the city or the people who live, work and play in Costa Mesa. They are, for the most part, dedicated, hardworking people who are doing what they were hired to do. Rhetoric calling them "union thugs" and worse is uncalled for and unproductive.

In my former life, I had direct knowledge of the quality of people who were applying to be officers. While there were some good applicants, there were many more who had too many questions to hire in a position of a police officer, which requires significant community trust.

The hiring standards are and were not too high, as alleged. If anything, the standards were relaxed, as much as is reasonable. I don't believe that the police department should ever deviate from insisting that integrity, honesty and proper values be a cornerstone of what makes up a new officer.

The rigors of the job can be challenging enough, even with the proper cornerstone. Does the Costa Mesa community really want the police department to reduce standards for the police officers it hires?

As I indicated previously, the economic environment dictates that all expenditures be reviewed, including salary and benefit packages. What isn't necessary is the rhetoric the City Council majority likes to inject into discussions.

Other cities, like Newport Beach, for example, have been able to accomplish salary savings without all the "union thug" accusations and demeaning, unproductive comments. The frequent accusations accomplish nothing but resentment. Now I know that the council majority will say they like the employees, and they are good people, but that is not how they treat them. Watch closely what they do.

Costa Mesa used to be a place of destination. It may be again, in the future, but it is not one today. Facts are facts, and the significant exodus of police officers is just a glimpse of the personnel issues facing the city. With the cost to hire and train a new officer well into six figures, doesn't it make sense to figure out the "why" and fix the problem?

The community doesn't need divisive leadership; it needs leadership with integrity so it can begin to once again make Costa Mesa a destination. One important trait that all good leaders know is to have the integrity to admit what they don't know, and to reach out for assistance from those who do.

While I don't know how to be a successful developer and freely admit that, I do know what good city leadership looks like, and what it doesn't look like. And it doesn't look like what the current majority is providing. The Costa Mesa community deserves better than it has been receiving.

I'm not bitter, nor did I leave on any terms but my own. In fact, I was truly honored to serve the Costa Mesa community for most of my adult life. I want the best for the community and city departments. In my opinion, the various misstatements from the council majority are beneath what the people of Costa Mesa deserve.

Former Costa Mesa Police Capt. ALLEN HUGGINS retired after 27 years with the department in December 2012. He live in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

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