For the better part of the first two decades after the closure of the former Fort Ord (1994-2012), Seaside public safety improved tremendously. Violent, drug-related and property crime statistics show they dropped to a small fraction of what we suffered in Seaside during the 1980s and 1990s.
While I served as Mayor, we demanded and insured the police department was fully staffed at the approved funding level. The council and I also voted in October 2012 to add at least one more officer to alleviate the staffing pressures experienced when any officers are on medical, family or administrative leave.
Additionally, we funded and added a number of â€œforce multiplyingâ€ efforts, culminating in late 2012 in the PRVNT (â€œprevent,â€ the Peninsula Regional Violence Narcotics Team) effort. One of the earliest press releases shows the promise of this unit, which brought additional officers from surrounding communities into Seaside on demand and at no additional cost to Seaside taxpayers.
We expected that together with the departmentâ€™s endeavors in community and intelligence-based policing, the additional funding and staffing effort would ensure that crime continued to fall. While there were two homicides in 2012, federally verified statistics showed that Part I crime (i.e. violent crime) was down more than 14% that year.
With the seating of a new administration in December 2012, all city salaries were adjusted upward by 3%. An additional raise of 3% was given in 2013. This in spite of the fact that virtually all Seaside employees were already paid competitively by all reasonable metrics. [ These issues are described more fully on the Fiscal Responsibility page. ]
The fully burdened costs of these raises is about $3.5 million per year. If fully applied to police staffing, this additional level of expense could have hired at least 23 full time police officers (The Chief claims the fully burdened cost of an entry level officer is about $146,000 per year. There is evidence it could be as â€œlowâ€ as $123,000, which would enable even more officers to be hired.).
Worse, with these raises, the City has inadequate funding for basic levels of service and police department staffing has actually fallen â€“ vacant positions have been left unfilled. This leads to significant mandated overtime, which has not only further increased costs, but has significantly lowered morale within the department. This is a large reason the Police Officersâ€™ Association took a vote of no confidence in the police chief in 2013.
Residents such as Ann Marie Pagan are starting to ask pointed questions, such as: â€œWhereâ€™s the money in Seasideâ€ which rightly points out we are getting significantly less service for spending levels equivalent to 2009-2010. On the same letters to the editor page, Krystal Deetie expresses her concern with limited crime prevention efforts.
Could these recent policies, management inattention to detail and low police department staffing have led to significantly increased crime?
In 2014 to date, Seaside has had a spike in violent crime and 8 homicides with one additional suspicious death. It seems we are quickly and dramatically returning to having one of the highest (per capita) homicide rates in the State of California.
Unfortunately, the City seems almost completely unequipped to deal with the surge in crime. The Police department has three unfilled patrol positions. Additionally, three officers are on semi-permanent leave (administrative and health reasons).
This leaves the City with very small available police force â€” fully 6 sworn officers fewer than when I served as mayor. Indeed, during some shifts only one officer and one sergeant patrol our city of 35,000 inhabitants.
The Seaside Fire Department is in significantly better shape than the police department.
In early 2010 under the previous administration, the City undertook a plan to participate in a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) for fire and emergency medical protection. Cost cutting and community based measures like this are good in concept, but the JPA would have ceded significant command authority and, possibly, financial benefits to the City of Monterey at the expense of Seaside.
When I took office in 2010, with the support of the council I championed the City of Seaside maintaining its own, autonomous fire department. We undertook an effective reorganization â€” designed by the fire department itself, rather than expensive consultants.
The reorganization corrected long-standing staffing problems which had personnel â€œactingâ€ at a higher level than they were hired. A permanent part time fire chief was also hired after a succession of interim chiefs had been serving the City. Additionally we hired a few firefighters using a FEMA â€œSAFERâ€ grant to fully staff a department which had been missing adequate personnel.
More recently (in 2014), the City advanced the part time chief to full time. This increased costs to the City dramatically. The whole arrangement is suboptimal since:
All in all, the Fire Department is in a good state, but we must remain vigilant on the Cityâ€™s finances. In the alternative we again risk having to participate in limiting arrangements or contract out services as was proposed in the fairly recent past.
Ensure adequate funding for Police and Fire Departments to ensure proper staffing, training and physical resources. This is best handled by appropriate fiscal responsibility on the part of the Council.
The council also needs to immediately clarify consistent standards for what considerations and participation is expected of all development projects in the Cityâ€™s public safety efforts. It should not be necessary to further increase the tax burden on Seaside residents if we make intelligent development decisions that benefit all stakeholders and not just a few special interests. For too long, developers have not paid their full pro-rata share of their developmentâ€™s public safety demand.
There are also significant non-traditional aspects of public safety that need to be taken into account at multiple levels. One of the most obvious is the need to eradicate gang presence. Uncombated graffiti gives gangs a sense of turf entitlement. Graffiti can be fairly easily dealt with tools other than police involvement.
One proactive step would be to encourage (or even require) new developments and significant remodels to paint exteriors with graffiti resistant paint or use other graffiti resistant building methods and materials.
The property maintenance ordinance must also be uniformly and swiftly enforced, particularly with regards to graffiti removal.
The police and fire departments must also continue their school outreach programs. We should consider expanding with similar programs to educate Seaside residents and business people regarding public safety offerings in the community. These types of programs will reinforce the reality that Seaside is well protected and that public safety employees are our partners in keeping the community safe and helping to improve it.