News

Police department avoids cuts, this time

The Mountain View Police Department escaped the chopping block as the city's budget was carved out Tuesday. But like their firefighter counterparts, police could face painful cuts in the future if the city hopes to balance its budget amid economic turmoil.

Eight of the city's 100 sworn police officers may have to look for work elsewhere in the next few years, according to a list of last-resort "tier two" cuts to police services totaling $1.37 million created by city manager Kevin Duggan after discussions with police Chief Scott Vermeer.

Faced with budget realities, some City Council members are wondering how much the community values its police services compared to other city services, such as library service, park and street maintenance and recreation programs. Without cuts to public safety, other basic services will have to be pared back.

Some city officials say the police and fire department budgets have grown disproportionately over the years to about half of the city's $88 million general fund. Thirty-one percent, or $27 million, goes to police.

Under the potential cuts, five of the city's eight community service officers would be out of a job, saving the city $108,000 in salary and benefits for each position for a total of $540,000. In addition, three police agents — a supervisor rank below sergeant — would be let go so the city could save $528,900 ($176,300 per agent), while the city would have to shell out another $15,000 in pay and benefit raises to each of three agents who would be promoted to sergeant as part of the deal.

Response times up?

In 2008, police responded to serious emergencies, such as shootings, within three and a half minutes on average. Vermeer said response times to emergency calls may not be affected by the suggested cuts to police, but lower priority "service" calls, such as a report of a suspicious person, could suffer. Nick Galiotto, a former mayor and police officer, was concerned.

"If police officers have to 'take over' the numerous lower-threat tasks now performed by community service officers, their increased overall workload will probably mean longer response times to the community's calls for service," Galiotto said in an e-mail.

"The point of having a CSO is to reduce the necessity of a police officer handling certain calls for service, infractions and non-dangerous misdemeanors," Galiotto wrote. "For example, the recovery of an abandoned stolen vehicle can be processed by a CSO, thus not requiring the time of a highly trained police officer with powers of arrest at significantly higher cost."

The loss of three police agents also has its drawbacks, Galiotto pointed out.

"A police officer is frequently involved in incidents requiring supervisory assistance, such as application of technical arrest, search and/or impound laws. Having an agent on a shift allows an officer to obtain such assistance without waiting for the shift sergeant to complete some other assignment."

Positions on block

In total, the Police Department could lose 11 full-time positions and four part-time positions, including two full-time records specialists who man the front counter and help detectives search for records (saving $212,000), and three part-time assistants who handle things like sex offender registration, impound vehicle hearings, crime analysis and data entry (saving $135,000).

Compared to other city departments, the Police Department budget has grown disproportionately since 1991. The city's fire and police departments have added 21 employees since 1991, while the rest of the city government lost 37 employees.

According to a Police Department audit from February 2008, the city already pays less per capita for police services than Milpitas, Palo Alto and Redwood City, which are considered to be comparable local cities.

Police spokesperson Liz Wylie said morale in the department didn't appear to be down because of the suggested cuts.

"Quite a few people think that tier two won't ever be necessary," she said. "There are some people who are very worried. People named in tier two are pretty worried."

The City Council is expected to formally approve a 2009-10 budget on June 9, but the suggested cuts to police and fire — developed after months of discussions between Duggan and Vermeer — are viewed as a last resort and are not recommended at this time by city staff.

After the council budget hearing Tuesday, it appears there is about $1.5 million in tier two cuts that can be made before public safety will be affected. That may not be enough to fill a projected $4 million gap for 2010-11, unless new solutions are found. But officials say there aren't many such solutions in a city government that is already budgeted "lean," with few options for new revenue.

SEE ALSO:

Part 1: Budget fire vs. house fires

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Scott
a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 3, 2009 at 7:16 pm

Why don't they consider lowering pay for the officers? Don't they start at around $100,000/year. I can't imagine recruitment would suffer that much in this economy and few of the current officers would leave. I would hate to see the city wind up like SF where they cut jobs then pay the remaining employees ridiculous amounts of overtime to pick up the slack.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by anon this time
a resident of another community
on Jun 3, 2009 at 10:03 pm

Call me naive but $100K for a Records Specialist? Wow. OK, I know, a big part of that is benefits. I'd feel better if this story included info on how MVPD pay compares to other departments in Silicon Valley.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Happy with Police
a resident of Whisman Station
on Jun 4, 2009 at 4:50 pm

Anon - It is interesting that you state a point that the writters of these "Salary" stories that get everyone so fired up..."I'd feel better if this story included info on how MVPD pay compares to other departments in Silicon Valley." So here is a quick look at that (annual top-step officer pay *** Not Starting***):

Fremont $98,364
Los Gatos $99,361
Milpitas $106,517
Mountain View $102,428
San Jose $107,853
Santa Clara $119,904
Sunnyvale $105,852

Let's look at the career of a police officer - Part solider, part lawyer, part social work / mediator. You pay officers to go, see and deal with events and people that most of us (including me) won't go. Do you really want to pay a fresh out of college with no life experience making decisions that can effect the lives of you, me our neighbors? I think not. I want the smart, tough, compassionate cops there when I need them. I want the fire fighters (they should be call medical fighters because they rarely fight fires any more) that paid attention in training to be there when I am having a heart attack. If you don't pay these people the norm then you will have a force that the reports can write much more about because they will be making mistakes. Mistakes in the form of taking away peoples liberties, large lawsuits that the city will have to payout, injuries and death. Lower quality employees equals more crime and lower quality of life for us as we know it. These men and women are going to be having a bigger battle coming towards them when the budget hits the state prison system and the governor lets a bunch of criminals out. Please don't continue to sensationalize these budget stories and rumors it is just poor journalism ethics. Just a view from your neighbor who thinks that the police are under paid for the lives they live…glad it is not me.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by MV resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 4, 2009 at 7:48 pm

THANK YOU! Finally, a voice of reason. Police and Fire deserve every cent for what they endure on a daily basis and what they will live with for the rest of their lives.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by anon
a resident of another community
on Jun 8, 2009 at 2:36 am

Happy with Police,

I stand corrected! Thank you for providing the comparative salaries that I did not see in this article. I too am a huge fan of the MVPD, and a graduate of the MVPD Citizens Police Academy. Your additional info tells me that our MV officers are being paid what looks to me as about "the going rate" in this area, which is exactly what I asked, and I agree they are worth every cent.

I'm glad that you know how to find, and that you shared, this salary data for comparison.

I'm NOT sure that a Records Specialist (the example used in the story) is worth $100K. It sounds like a clerical position and if so, a lot of money, but if I knew more about the job responsibilities and comparable pay in the public/private sector for that type of work I could change my tune. Guess I should do more homework before speaking out.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mr. Big
a resident of Castro City
on Jun 10, 2009 at 8:50 pm

I too believe we should support our police and fire departments, but there is such a thing as "too much of a good thing".

50 percent of our city budget is too high for just two departments. In good times it may be Ok, but not when the economy is in emergency mode as it is now,

In an emergency even our emergency personnel must feel the pain.


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