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Commentary: Righeimer, council let city down on public safety

"Make Costa Mesa better for families" has been my guiding principle during my years on the Planning Commission, City Council and Newport-Mesa school board. Nothing is as important to families than knowing that they are safe and secure in their own homes.

The absolute and undeniable No. 1 priority of local government is to ensure public safety. It is on that most-important-of-all issues that the current council majority, among all its other shortcomings, has failed most spectacularly in the past four years.

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I would never have thought it possible, but I have watched in increasing dismay as the council, under the leadership of Mayor Jim Righeimer, gutted and dismantled the Costa Mesa Police Department.

Let's look at the facts.

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In just four years, the department's complement of sworn officers has dwindled by nearly a third, from 147 in 2010 to less than 98 currently available for duty.

In reaction to this exodus of experienced and dedicated officers, the council majority instituted a hiring freeze for two years.

Now, people might expect that this would have an effect on crime in the city, and they would be right.

My home has been broken into twice since 2011, and my neighbors on either side have each been hit once.

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Hundreds of Costa Mesans can tell similar stories. In 2012, 668 Costa Mesa homes were burgled, compared with 458 burglaries citywide in 2010. In the same two years, thefts rose from 2,454 to 3,050 in Costa Mesa, and auto thefts went from 282 to 361.

This occurred here while the national averages for those three crimes actually went down from 2010 to 2012.

For local comparison, I'll point out that in the same period, burglaries in Newport Beach ticked up from 425 to 445, thefts were flat (1,617 to 1,611) and auto thefts showed a marked decline, from 134 to 95. Similarly, Huntington Beach burglaries went up slightly, from 767 to 797. Santa Ana actually showed a drop in burglaries in the period, from 1,116 to 1,032.

Last year, with an election looming, the Costa Mesa council majority agreed to authorize hiring, and now they are touting the recent addition of five police academy graduates to the force.

What they don't tell the public is that the effort to bolster a diminished department has failed to attract a single experienced officer from another jurisdiction, and the city will have to rely on the academy recruits for the foreseeable future.

The mayor and council majority have created such a hostile environment here that officers would rather stay in the blazing heat of Hemet or the frozen tundra of Fairbanks, or commute more than an hour each way to Los Angeles and work those high-crime precincts, than take a chance on moving to Costa Mesa, where the mayor is suing the association that represents his officers.

Meanwhile, academy recruits — whose courage and dedication to service I respect — simply do not yet have the years of experience and training necessary to staff the depleted ranks of the department's detective, narcotics, fraud and other specialized units.

In other words, the CMPD and the city have been put in a dangerous hole that will take years and years to dig out of. That effort will be my first priority to make Costa Mesa better for families, if I'm elected.

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But I can't do it alone. The people of Costa Mesa have to do their part, because the single most effective way to again attract experienced officers to our police force is to vote out the mayor and council majority. They have caused the damage. Only then can trust and stability be restored.

Newport-Mesa school board Trustee KATRINA FOLEY is a former member of the Costa Mesa City Council. She is seeking to return to the council in the Nov. 4 election.

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