H■ By Mary Ann Morris / Editor
emet Police Chief David Brown asked the City Council Dec. 13 for a budget appropriations item on Measure U anticipated revenue so the HPD could tackle “quality of life” issues.
“I would like to recognize the three returning council members who worked tirelessly to get us where we are tonight and certainly the two new council members, who supported this measure during their campaigns and worked their tails off,” said Brown. “We are gathered here collectively as a community tonight to congratulate each other and celebrate a new beginning for our city in terms of public safety.”
The additional one-cent sales tax designated for the general fund, but promised to be spent only on public safety, will become collectible beginning April 1, 2017, to allow merchants sufficient time to reprogram their cash registers and is required by the Board of Equalization, said Brown.
The anticipated revenue expected from April 1 and June 30 this fiscal year is $ 2,239,243. Brown requested an advance on those monies so that $746,429 can be allocated to the Hemet Fire Department, and $1,492,814 will go to the Hemet Police Department, keeping in line with the recommended split of one-third to fire and two-thirds to police.
Police Chief Brown’s immediate priorities were established from responses to the Quality of Life survey conducted by Cal State University San Bernardino’ Institute for Applied Research and Gina Airey Consulting in 2013. The three key issues include immediate impact of quality of life issues, advance the HPD’s recruitment efforts, which Brown said will be challenging, and to reduce excessive rates of violent crime.
Brown will establish a new bureau, the Special Operations Bureau, which will have eight police officers, two community service officers and one lieutenant. The Restoring Our Community Safety (ROCS) team is in place “to finally give teeth to the excellent ordinances the Council passed,” said Brown. “Now we have the ability to enforce.”
The HPD has, for the last three weeks, conducted high visibility sweeps centered on “quality of life” crimes, which resulted in more than 100 arrests and citations.
Currently, said Brown, the Crime Suppression Unit only has one officer. The budget appropriation he is requesting will allow him to assign four additional officers and one community service officer.
“Their job is to find, track and apprehend the worst-of-the-worst of the violent criminals who we know are already in our community,” said Brown. “This unit will not always work in uniform or in black-and-white vehicles. They will have the flexibility to work in ways to effectively reduce gun violence, robbery and homicide.”
An aggressive prosecution unit will be established, said Brown, for misdemeanor crime utilizing a city prosecutor from a firm that the city already contracts with. The city prosecutor, who will earn about $100,000 annually for work on a part-time, contractual basis, will walk that case through the court system step by step, said Brown.
“We had a chronically homeless individual who constantly impeded traffic on Florida Avenue, took over a number of trash Dumpster enclosures and made them his “home,” said Brown. “The city prosecutor used the existing city ordinances and we were able to get a conviction and as a term of that probation, that individual is no longer allowed on Florida Avenue.”
The biggest challenge to the HPD plan, said Brown, is recruiting and retaining high quality police officers. It costs about $180,000 to train an officer to get to the street, which Brown feels is a conservative estimate.
“We can eliminate that cost by recruiting experienced officers from other agencies. We hired the 69th officer on Wednesday of this week, and we are now fully-staffed for the first time [since the recession]. Every officer we hire from here on out will be a Measure U officer,” said Brown.
It’s a monumental task to hire 40 additional officers in four years, said Brown.
“There is a tremendous competition for officers, because all police agencies are hiring,” he said. “We will need to be aggressive in recruitment efforts, including marketing and branding, citywide. We need to add an administrative assistant to help in an accelerated hiring process, which will help reduce the recruitment process from about one year to three months.
Brown is most excited to implement a Cadet Program, which he calls the “farm team,” which bridges the gap between the 18-year-old high school graduate and the age of 21, the legal age to become a police officer. But he is most excited to enhance the communications center.
“The epicenter of this operation is a communications center. Currently we have a police lieutenant maintaining this center, which is not the most efficient use of a sworn officer,” explained Brown. “A communication technology manager will manage the growth and implementation of the communications dispatch center, manage the community camera and body-worn video programs, and provide paperless interaction with the DA’s office.”
The salary for this new, non-sworn position is estimated to be $110,000 annually.