Saturday, May 2, 2009

Fighting City Hall

One of the things I learned in my years of politics; you can't fight City Hall. What you can do is learn to play the game of politics. Using logic, common sense, facts and emotion have no bearing on politics or what happens in City Hall. Providing a logical, common sense, fact based argument against imposing a contract that costs police officers 10% of their income; freezes or removes their retiree medical benefits, destroys their ability to enter DROP and forces the most experienced and dedicated of our officers out the door is fruitless.

What do we do to fight City Hall? How do we stop the mayor's war he is waging against the finest police department in the nation? How do we garner the public's support in times like these, when they are suffering as much or more than we are? How to we regain the support of those City Council persons who once understood the need to put the public's safety first? How do WE band together and work as one to meet the goal of "Fighting City Hall?"

Providing to the Council and citizenry; comparative statistics of our pay and benefits; highlighting the attrition rate of officers; detailing the inability to hire qualified replacements for those leaving; explaining the potential reality of police officers not being able to respond in a timely manner to serious crimes; showing how the quality of life issues, so important to citizens, will go unanswered; is all well and good. The problem is unless the public is "personally" affected by crime; the City Council is pressured by large numbers of citizens; a major crisis results in highly publicized criticism of the level of public safety; none of the FACTS provided mean a thing!!!

I am going to say some things that may rankle some people's feathers. I may strike some nerves and open a debate that creates discussion and disagreement. In the end, I believe until we all get on the same page and agree to follow a plan developed to educate and inform the public; NOTHING WILL CHANGE. Some of what I will share was discussed in two meetings between the POA Board, Captains and Lieutenants. I will explain later the outcome of these meetings.

The first thing we need to do is remember why we all became police officers. We all in some way wanted to fight crime, make people safe, help and protect people and provide a quality of life for our community, family and friends. We did not come into this job to get rich. Each of us stands as a professional, ethical example of what is good. To so this we need to be professional in everything we do. Why is it, when we respond to a residential or commercial burglary, we gather the information for the report and quickly leave to respond to the next call? Why do we gather the basic information for an injury accident and begin answering the next call? What happened to conducting a thorough and complete INVESTIGATION; consisting of a search for physical evidence and witnesses? What happened to completing the report when the information is fresh in your memory and articulating the actions of the suspects, observations of witnesses and protecting the chain of evidence and impounding the prints or other evidence in a timely manner? What happened to NOT responding to priority one calls when no cover unit is available? Will it take one of us getting killed or seriously injured before we go back to the safety practices we ALL know we should be adhering too? When will we start writing traffic citations for ALL of the moving violations observed? When will we write traffic violations for ALL of the equipment violations observed? We owe the citizens our diligence in addressing the poor driving practices of these law violators. When will we each be diligent in our efforts to document EVERYTHING we do on the CAD? Will there ever be a time when we will band together and STOP volunteering our off duty time to work Special Events?

Let's talk first about the last question I posed; working overtime for Special Events. I have heard all the reasons for "why" officers fight to work this overtime. I understand the need to supplement ones income when wages and benefits are cut. I would suggest to those who continue to succumb to this behavior; you are hurting yourself and your fellow officer. The City depends on you and your "need" for the additional income to volunteer your off duty time to fill these positions. What would happen if EVERYONE removed their name from the Special Events Roster? The Department could NOT fill these positions. You cannot be ordered to work overtime unless there is an emergency. A Padre or Charger game; Rock and Roll Marathon; Movie Detail; Pride Parade; SuperCross; Mardi Gras; or any of the other "planned" events are NOT "emergencies." The City would be forced into finding another solution to meeting the needs of these promoters. There is little benefit to giving in to this temptation and allowing the City to use you. Each time staffing is provided by officers volunteering to work overtime; you remove the need for the City to address the issue of adequate and fair compensation. Where there is no need; there is no desire on the part of the City Council.

Conducting a COMPLETE, "Preliminary Investigation" requires TIME. Searching for physical evidence and witnesses; writing a detailed report articulating the actions of the suspects and witness observations requires TIME. FINISHING the INVESTIGATION before clearing to handle additional radio calls requires time and additional officers. Each time you handle these calls by the book; calls will stack. Conducting an investigation and writing a detailed report EVERY TIME a crime is brought to your attention will take time. The public will wait for the services they have become accustomed to receiving. I am NOT advocating dragging your feet or taking your time. I am advocating doing your job totally and completely to the best of your ability and by the book. Be professional and provide that excellent customer service each of you is capable of.

Refusing to respond to Priority One calls when a cover officer is not available will cause the call to wait. Balancing the public's safety and Officer's safety needs is going to be a challenge. Being a police officer is dangerous and at times we are going to get injured doing our job. Our desire to protect the public, at times pulls us to violate our training when we know we should not give in to this temptation. Will it take one or more of us getting killed or seriously injured before we go back to the basics and protect ourselves and each other first? Following our own policies and training will again cause calls to stack and the public to wait for the services they have become accustomed to receiving.

Addressing traffic violations in an aggressive and professional manner will provide the driving public safer streets and take time. Conducting these stops and writing the citation, complete with appropriate notes as prescribed by policy takes time. Traffic stops take time and will at times generate overtime. These stops will take you out of service and cause radio calls to stack. The public will wait for the services they have become accustomed to receiving.

When the POA discussed these issues with Captains we were met with a refusal to support officers performing these duties in a professional manner. With the exception of one Captain; we were told these actions amounted to a "Job Slow Down" and they would NOT support officers who conducted themselves in such a manner. When we attempted to explain our belief that we as officers were shortchanging ourselves and the public by; cutting corners and juggling two and three calls at a time; volunteering to handle priority calls alone; conducting cursory investigations and writing brief reports; and not addressing the traffic violations we observed while on patrol; we were told there was going to be no support for these actions.

We then met with the Lieutenants and had a similar discussion. It was clear the Captains had briefed their Lieutenants prior to this meeting and we met the same resistance. We knew at this point there was no support for officers. Politics within the department was as strong as it was at City Hall. It was clear the Captains did not want to have to answer to the Chief or Mayor when constituents started calling in and complaining about the lack of officers and the response times to calls.

We have done this to ourselves. We have given into the belief we can do more with less and we have. We have given into the belief there is nothing we can do to change the circumstance we have found ourselves in. We have refused to hold ourselves and each other accountable. When we decide as a department to stop giving in to the hype of doing more with less, we will be able to take the first step of fighting City Hall. When we band together and do our jobs in the MOST PROFESSIONAL MANNER POSSIBLE, we will begin to affect the public in a manner they are not accustomed. Supervisors from top to bottom must support their people and encourage professionalism and adherence to policy.

The response times will increase and the quality of life calls (transient camp, 415 barking dog, pan-handler, illegally parked car, loud radio, kids playing in the street, illegal dumping) will NOT receive police attention expected by the citizens. The response times will no longer be the lowest in the region. The crime reports that in the past were washed out or not taken for a variety of reasons will no longer be blown off, resulting in the crime stats more accurately reflecting the crime rate of our communities. We will actually be working harder, NOT less. We will be doing more, NOT less.

In short order the public will begin to feel the effects of too few police officers and begin to complain of long response times. The City Council will tire of the complaints and demand answers. When the CAD entries show a detailed accounting of minute by minute activity of officers, showing the number of calls handled, reports taken and contacts made; it will also show the length of time calls had to wait due to officers doing their job and not having sufficient officers to handle the calls any faster. God forbid a citizen is seriously injured or killed because we do not have sufficient officers to respond in a timely manner to a priority one call. God forbid an officer is seriously injured or killed because there are not sufficient officers available to assist and cover each other.

We will not effect change unless we ALL adhere to the ideals of doing everything by the book. We will not be successful in this venture if a handful of officers break ranks and think of only themselves and volunteer for Special Events Overtime. Peer pressure will be required to ensure those thinking of only THEMSELVES, follow suit and do what is right. Yes, it will be difficult. It will require sacrifice. It will require officers to stand shoulder to shoulder and carry the pain together. It can be done, but ONLY if everyone carries the same weight and does not buckle under the pressure. There is no room for the officer who says he "HAS" to work overtime to pay his/her bills. I say to you; "You have no choice but NOT to work that overtime." You continue to allow the City to use you; you will allow the City to continue acts of war against the rest of your brothers and sisters of the San Diego Police Department.

You can fight City Hall with a unified front and by providing that excellent customer service the citizen's of San Diego have come to expect. This excellent customer service comes at a price. It SHOULD NOT be in the form of a serious injury or death to one of us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

outstanding sparky , I preached what you speak for 30 years its the ONLY way business should be done!!!!!! you have Lt.s and Capt.s who should never even made Sgt!!!!!!!!! Frito