There are those who view life as a glass half full and there are those who view the same glass as half empty. Whose right and which view is most realistic? We have been through some very trying times over the last few years. Hundreds of senior and experienced officers were forced to retire; some before they had planned, to preserved benefits earned over many years. Repeated attacks to benefits and reductions to wages and benefits, have taken their toll. Today we face down the possibility of further reductions to wages and benefits and an even more real possibility of losing officers and support staff to layoffs.
The question of if we will lose officers is really more of how many we will lose. The question of how much more the city will take is also looming in the minds of officers. The mayor has repeatedly said police and fire will not escape the cuts facing workers in the city. The deficit is closing in on $200 million and projected to be as much the following year. Simple math dictates serious and deep cuts will be necessary to close such a huge deficit. The portion being attributed to the police department is $74 million. The mayor is graciously giving the department a $24 million dollar credit for the 300 plus vacant positions currently on the books. The down side is these positions will be eliminated permanently from the budget, thus again decreasing our ability to effectively provide for the public's safety.
The proposals floating around the department of eliminating various units (Horse Patrol, Harbor Unit, Division Narcotics Teams & others) does nothing to eliminate spending and close the deficit. The only way to make up $50 million will be to eliminate positions (people) from the payroll and cut spending. The elimination of overtime, holidays, take home cars, training, equipment and maintenance will help some. But when 70+% of your budget are personnel costs, the only effective way to close such a large deficit is huge cuts in this area.
When will someone stand up and demand the mayor and council take a step back and first decide where their priorities are? The taxpayers have consistently listed public safety as the number one priority of their government. While I am a fan of the Arts, Libraries, Park and Recreation, after school programs, senior and homeless outreach and many of the other social programs provided by government, I am a firm believer these programs are not priorities. I am not advocating the elimination of any of these programs either. But I do believe the programs need to be self sufficient and sustained by those who use them.
The mayor and councils refusal to seek increases to income is not a sustainable or realistic position today. They need to suggest and then support increases to the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT), a sales tax increase to support public safety and develop a ballot initiative to begin charging for refuse collection in the city. The fees for use of park and recreation facilities need to be more in line with the cost of the use as well as after school programs and the Arts. More assistance needs to be sought for adult/senior and homeless programs. Federal dollars need to be sought out and a more collaborative effort with the county and state. This is ONLY a beginning and will do little to close this year's deficit.
The department needs to re-structure from the top down. The department is top heavy with redundant responsibilities being shared and duplicated. The elimination of two chief's positions, the legal advisor, four captains, ten lieutenants and as many as thirty sergeants are possible. The department also needs to determine priorities. Taking a page from the taxpayers; what is important to them? What is it they expect of us? What are their true priorities? I am a firm believer if the right questions are asked of the right people we will understand the priorities of the people we serve. I do not mean listening to the loudest yellers or the agenda driven small groups of people who seem to push their way into the spotlight.
I am sure to have pissed off some chief's, captains, lieutenants and sergeants, not to mention the chief's legal advisor. In an effort to step out of the box and make changes that are meaningful and have the least impact on providing the services we do, I have thrown some things out to begin a process of changing the way we think. Do we really need six chiefs? Do we really need a captain for every division? Do we honestly need two and three lieutenants in divisions? If we re-structured our field units and teams could we not eliminate a number of sergeant positions? The trade off is the responsibility for leading this department is driven lower and closer to where the work is actually done. Lieutenants would take on many of the responsibilities of the Captain and the sergeants would take on many of the responsibilities of the lieutenants and some of the political activities we have become involve in will have to be eliminated. Getting back to the basics of police work and leaving the social work and politics of seals and other issues to others is a good first start.
To reach $50 million in savings/cuts there is going to be pain. I said in a prior post we are going to be made the bad guy when we refuse to accept additional wage cuts and fight further reductions to benefits. The threats of large layoffs will loom and the department will have to make some tough decisions. There will be coveted assignments eliminated and people moved to priority positions. Before any of this takes place we first need to know what the priorities are from the taxpaying public. I am a taxpayer and am tired of listening to a mayor and council tell me what my priorities are. We as a department are not in a position to tell those we serve what their priority should be. Politics needs to be removed from the equation and honest assessments of crime and trends need to be presented. That does not mean we use the flawed FBI statistics to paint a picture of everything is great and crime is down. We all know better and are tired of hearing this.
There is always hope things will get better and we will come out of this unscathed. I am the type of person who looks at the glass as still having something to offer and yet room for more. I am the type of person who would rather be told honestly of the perils of the future than listen to someone blow smoke. What is going on today demands honest, frank discussion and leaders willing to confront misinformation and publicly support their employees. To do otherwise is a failure and disservice to those who count on this leadership and support. The reality of today is the outlook for the future is bleak and hope for a turnaround anytime soon is not good.