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Jul 2012
Budget woes could result in loss of 40 Long Beach police officers

LONG BEACH - Budget woes could result in the elimination of 40 police officer positions by this fall, including 20 gang enforcement assignments, at the Long Beach Police Department, the Press-Telegram has learned.

Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell and his administrative team met with City Manager Pat West earlier this month to lay out their proposal for meeting the city's budget shortfall, several sources within the Police Department told the Press-Telegram.

In a meeting the chief held with police staff, officers learned the proposed cuts include slashing 20 positions, including two sergeants, from the Gang Detail, which would mean the loss of their entire field unit.

That means that officers will still respond to gang calls and investigate the crimes, but there won't be the extensive expertise and background work done in recent years to identify and remove gang-run operations, such as the June takedown of the alleged leader of the Baby Insane Crips and several of his cohorts, officers warned.

A total of 40 police positions are on the cutting block, including the elimination of two homicide detective positions, while the South and West Patrol divisions would be consolidated into one division, officers said.

Although no officers are expected to be laid off, the cuts will drastically impact the work of the Gang Unit, the Homicide Detail and other police work, officers said.

"We're losing gang and homicide investigators at a time when we're just starting to see the effects of (state prison) reorganization and our crime stats are going up," one officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Long Beach has had a steady reduction in crime rates over the past decade, with 2010 hitting a 40-year record low. However, in 2011 the city saw Part 1 crimes, which include assault, murder and other serious crimes, jump 9.4 percent.

"Things are going to get ugly," the officer and many others said, noting the loss of the Cold Case and Quality of Life units.

The Quality of Life Unit works to divert homeless and formerly incarcerated individuals from jails and prisons.

Police Chief Jim McDonnell has confirmed for the Press-Telegram that the Police Department has been forced to consider drastic cuts in the face of further belt-tightening.

Many civilian positions and nearly all social programs offered by the Police Department, such as DARE, were wiped out in previous budget-crunching rounds or will be hit with the latest round of cuts, he said.

The situation is now to the point where the department is forced to eliminate investigative units to protect its core mission, which is responding to calls for service.

"We no longer have the numbers to continue working in the same capacity as we have in the past," McDonnell said, citing the expertise, focus and strategy that comes from detective teams and field units designed to fight crime proactively.

The department's staffing numbers, currently at about 815, are expected to drop to around 760 by the end of the year, the chief said.

"Those are positions that are being proposed for elimination. ... We should be able to meet the reductions through attrition," the chief said, adding that no layoffs are expected.

The proposal, he said, is expected to be made to the council within the next couple of weeks. The council has until mid-September to approve a budget before the next fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

The proposed cuts takes the department nearly 250 positions down from its record high of 1,020 budgeted officers in 2008.

The chief, rank and file officers, and some city leaders have repeatedly voiced concerns about the absence of any police academies to address the recent drop in ranks, which far exceed the loss of officers seen in law enforcement agencies like the Los Angeles County Sheriff's and Los Angeles Police departments.

Long Beach Police Association President Steve James said Friday that no other agency in the state has lost 20 percent of its force, or 200 officers, even in light of statewide budget woes.

Departments like the Los Angeles Police and Los Angeles Sheriff's departments were given guarantees by their governing bodies that they won't allow the agencies to ranks drop any further, he said.

Representatives from both those agencies confirmed that to the Press-Telegram earlier this year.

"We are at a point where there is no more fluff to cut," James said bluntly.

"There is a decision to be made about acceptable levels of crime, and that is what the city is going to have to decide. What level of crime can they live with?"

He noted that staffing numbers cited by the city don't take into account the roughly 60 police positions contracted out to other agencies, such as Long Beach Airport and the Port of Long Beach.

"They are able-bodied offices who can respond in an emergency," James said. "But they do not handle day-to-day calls."

James also noted that having West Division patrol units work out of another building to save the expense of a lease makes "sound financial sense with the city's budget."

Combining the West and South divisions makes less sense, he said.

"But increasing their work when they're already running from call to call ... means people are going to wait longer for an officer when calling 911" James said.

If an academy is approved by the council within the next few weeks, the department should be able to "stabilize" at about 760 officers, McDonnell said.

He and James both stressed it typically takes two years from the point of scheduling an academy to the time when an officer can handle calls for service on his or her own. Plus, the city will have to fund more academies if they are going to keep the number of officers they have at that point or grow the department, they said.

The problem from the Police Association's perspective, James said, is that the city can no longer address the budget crunch via proportional share.

As the city has been forced to slash its budget in recent years, City Manager Pat West and the council have set a policy of cutting a proportionate amount from each department in order to preserve libraries, parks and other services.

Without such a policy, maintaining police and firefighter levels could leave many other departments with few resources. Public safety departments make up 68 percent of the city's general fund.

"We are the largest share of the budget, so using proportional share means we have to make the greatest cut," James said. "The problem there is other city departments aren't tasked with the responsibility of the public's safety."



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