Mailbag: CMPD is 'least attractive' agency in O.C.

Re. "Mayor calls for police hiring plan," (Sept. 18): Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer's comments regarding a police hiring plan would be laughable except for the fact that he and the current City Council majority are completely responsible for the current public-safety crisis.

In June 2011, interim Police Chief Steve Staveley resigned in protest over the reckless downsizing of the department. He made a plea to the council at that time to not go below a staffing level of 140 sworn officers. Chief Staveley did not feel that 140 was a good staffing level; he considered it the absolute minimum.

What happened? The council majority took the Police Department well below the 140, to 131, and attrition has reduced the department to 120. The council majority cut away much of the civilian support crew, effectively reducing staffing even more. In 2011, crime increased 9.6%, and in 2012 it was up an alarming 15.5%.

Talk to any patrol officer working in Costa Mesa. The department is understaffed and overwhelmed with calls for service.

The specialized enforcement units are downsized or gone. We've gone without school resource officers protecting our schools. Detectives have told me that they are overloaded with workable cases, that is cases where there is a known suspect, but they lack the time or support to make a criminal case in court.

Any cop in Costa Mesa will tell you that the Costa Mesa Police Department has lost its proactive edge.

Sound police recruiting requires that a department look a minimum of two years out to manage retirements and account for growth, normal attrition and the lengthy hiring and training process.

Costa Mesa is behind by about five years, and the Police Department is now entering a perfect storm as it confronts a large increase in service retirements and is unable to retain existing officers or attract new recruits. In the past, one of the best recruitment tools was when current officers reached out to potential candidates and told them what a great place CMPD was to work. I doubt that this happens now.

The council majority has created a work environment that is so hostile that Costa Mesa is now easily the least attractive place in Orange County to work as a police officer. Not only is it extremely difficult to attract young talent, but many of our best mid-career officers are opting out and taking their expensive training and valuable experience elsewhere.

The council majority has virtually guaranteed that despite previous cuts in pay and benefits, they plan to reduce the pay and benefits even further. And let us not forget that two members of the council majority are suing the police association. What message does that send to the potential recruit?

Rumors of abuse and brow-beating heaped on the police command staff by the council majority are rife, not to mention the pressure to relax hiring standards. So what type of police officer candidate would want to get into this mess? The best and the brightest candidates?

CMPD Lt. (Ret.) Clay Epperson

Costa Mesa

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