Commentary: City is working hard to recruit police

Costa Mesa is a safe community but the City Council, staff and residents all want it to be even safer.

Many elements make up a safe community. One of the most critical is a professional and high-quality police department. Costa Mesa is fortunate to have an outstanding department with dedicated professionals who work hard to solve problems, serve and protect the community.

Just within the past several weeks, several events have demonstrated the level of professionalism Costa Mesa residents have come to expect from their police officers:

•On Sept. 9, the body of handyman John Gerard Kubat was discovered in the Westside. Police officers secured the scene and initiated the preliminary investigation. Detectives soon arrived and began a comprehensive investigation that included an in-depth crime scene analysis. The operation yielded sufficient forensic evidence that helped identify a suspect. Within 50 hours, the murder suspect was in custody.

•The same week, patrol officers arrived on Harbor Boulevard to investigate a reported traffic accident. The officers discovered a suicidal driver with an electrical cord tied around her neck and a 5-gallon propane tank next to her. She refused to unlock her car, so officers broke a window, pulled the fighting driver out and removed the cord from her neck. In the course of caring for the driver, she allegedly told the officers that she had killed her children at a nearby hotel. Officers soon confirmed the horrifying death of two drowned children at a nearby Santa Ana hotel.

•Several other exceptional arrests were made, including the capture of a suspected serial auto burglar who was caught in the act of stealing from a service vehicle.

As those extraordinary events unfolded, day-to-day police operations went on. These included an average of 225 daily calls for service along with records functions, court appearances, daily arrests, proactive dealing with homeless issues, follow-up investigations, the processing of hundreds of pieces of evidence, communications, training, firearms qualifications and a host of other obligations to the community.

This really speaks of a professional organization that has prepared for decades to deal with such tragic events while continuing to address more routine matters.

Police recruitment has been another example of excellence. In the past 10 months, the Costa Mesa Police Department has added 10 new officers (11 new hires since the second-tier pension for new hires was announced in September 2012 under Assembly Bill 340) and set the stage for a steady stream of new hires until the department is fully staffed.

With the same professionalism, dedication, tenacity and discipline demonstrated in the more noteworthy events of late, the aggressive recruitment process has resulted in the highest number of new hires in nearly five years.

The Police Department along with the city's Human Resources Division will continue to strive to recruit the best possible employees at all levels to serve Costa Mesa for decades to come, despite the competitive market for police officers around the county and state.

Here's a quick summary of the Police Department's personnel needs. The city has:

•213 authorized positions in the Police Department: 132 sworn police officer positions and 81 non-sworn positions, as well as part-time positions that equal 24 full-time spots.

•14 vacant sworn positions and three vacant nonsworn positions. Several more sworn positions are expected to be vacant in the coming months because of retirements and attrition.

•three positions within the Police Department dedicated to recruitment and training of new sworn officers. In addition, human resources now has a part-time employee to work exclusively on Police Department recruitment efforts. This new position is supported by three human resources professionals who spend a significant amount of their time on recruitment efforts.

The collective efforts have produced the following:

•Of the 10 new sworn officer positions that have been filled, two are still in the recruit status, meaning they will need to graduate from a police academy. The positions were filled on the following dates:

•Dec. 15: Police officer (academy graduate)

•Jan. 13: Police officer (academy graduate)

•Jan. 13: Police officer (academy graduate)

•Jan. 13: Police officer (lateral transfer)

•Feb. 24: Police recruit (police academy graduate training as a police officer)

•April 21: Police officer (police academy graduate training as a police officer)

•June 2: Police recruit (police academy graduate training as a police officer)

•June 16: Police officer (lateral transfer)

•June 16: Police reserve officer

•Sept. 8: Police recruit

The city is seeking to fill the remaining 14 sworn vacant positions as well as hire additional officers to be ready when anticipated retirements occur over the next year. Since late May, the city has received more than 1,800 applications.

During the latest recruitment and testing process:

•The city has eight candidates from the previous testing cycles who have passed the polygraph test and are now in the background phase. (Human resources recently contracted with an additional background investigation service to expedite processing.) With the current candidate pool in the background phase, we anticipate filling a number of spots in the upcoming Orange County Sheriff's Academy starting Dec. 2.

•On Sept. 19, the recruitment for lateral officers and reserve officers opened. Human Resources will process lateral officer applicants on a separate testing cycle than police recruiting to offer flexibility in scheduling physical agility test and oral interviews as applications are received and reviewed. So far, four officers from other departments and two reserve officer candidates have been approved for expedited testing.

•346 candidates were invited to take the written examination Oct. 2 to 3. Eighty-three were invited to take the physical agility test and interview evaluation Oct. 19.

•To streamline hiring, the city has condensed the testing process so recruits complete their physical test, oral interview and review of background paperwork over a single weekend. Four simultaneous interview panels are used to screen these candidates.

•The city is continuing to recruit for police officers on a wide array of websites and at local colleges, military bases, police academies and other venues.

We are effectively addressing the Police Department's recruiting and hiring needs. We are meeting regularly with Mayor Jim Righeimer and other council members to update them on our efforts and to discuss other measures that would help Costa Mesa hire the best police officers in the state.

The entire organization is committed to attracting the most qualified candidates to serve Costa Mesa.

TOM HATCH is CEO of Costa Mesa. TOM GASZI is Costa Mesa's chief of police.

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