■ BY Mary Ann Morris / Editor
It’s no secret we have a crime epidemic in Hemet. Our town is overrun by vagrants, vandals and felons who have no respect for the law or law-abiding citizens and business owners. We are in such dire straits that the Hemet Police Department held a press conference April 7 in Weston Park, declaring a “War on Crime.”
The problem is so serious that Hemet Police Chief David Brown was flanked by Mayor Linda Krupa, Riverside County District Attorney Michael Hestrin and Riverside County Supervisor Chuck Washington, along with several neighboring police chiefs to provide proper “optics;” to provide “a show of force” to prove HPD means business about cleaning up this town.
Well, if we are engaging in a War on Crime, why don’t we start by reinstituting traffic patrols on Florida Avenue? It’s the most highly traveled street in our town, the site of most collisions, hit-and-runs, and pedestrian accidents, yet I rarely, if ever, see a police car writing tickets or pulling people over. I have had several discussions, via email and in person, with Chief Brown about exploring the possibility of outsourcing these patrol duties with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department or the California Highway Patrol. The gist of the answer is reminiscent of former Mayor Bonnie Wright’s response to the state auditor’s suggestions: the idea has merit, but not for us.
Well, we need to not only consider it, we need to do it. It’s not an unprecedented idea. In fact, we did have such a partnership agreement with CHP in 2013/14 – a program that was touted as wildly successful by all involved – including Chief Brown, former Mayor Larry Smith, former City Manager Wally Hill, and Assemblyman Brian Nestande. A partnership so successful that discussions were held about extending the contract to include it in the fiscal year 2014/15 budget. A program that Brown states was his idea. The only fly in the ointment was who was going to pay for it because Hemet was suffering a budget shortfall and the proposed $345,000 contract (minus $70,000 in citation revenue offset) would require deficit spending.
Here’s a quote from a letter written by Assemblyman Nestande in 2014: “During the initial 6-month phase of the program, the CHP conducted over 2,800 public contacts on or around State Route 74-Florida Avenue. As a result, the Hemet Police Department’s enforcement activity in other areas of the city increased significantly. Arrest activity increased by 14 percent and other enforcement activity increased by 3 percent.”
Those are pretty good numbers, if you ask me. We are in over our head in this town regarding crime and there is no shame in admitting we need help. In fact, we are told it’s a sign of strength to reach out and ask for help. What could HPD do with 14 percent more criminals off the streets?
It’s not really an issue of affordability, because thanks to Measure U, we are flush with cash (or the promise of it) and can afford to keep our citizens safe. Right? Wrong. So, why won’t our police chief ask for help from neighboring agencies – such as the California Highway Patrol and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department – who offer such services?
Last week I emailed Chief Brown and Mayor Linda Krupa, asking them whether they have again considered such a partnership. Mayor Krupa declined to comment, apparently content to allow Chief Brown to speak for her. Brown told me, in no uncertain terms, that while traffic on Florida Avenue is getting worse, there are no plans to contract out this vital function. Now, mind you, I’m not asking them to contract out this service permanently. My idea is a temporary solution, just until HPD can build its ranks back up and take back the task of patrol. Brown still won’t consider it.
“In 2010, the last year we had a fully staffed Traffic Bureau, there were 71 injury collisions on Florida Ave. In 2015, there were 127 traffic collisions on Florida Ave. and last year (2016) there were 114. Over double the number of victims,” said Brown via email. “So, your assessment is correct. More enforcement is desperately needed. However, when the department is reduced from 90 sworn officers to 53 (at our lowest point)…public safety suffers and our citizens are injured, killed and victimized at a much higher rate.”
This prompted me to reply that it seems irresponsible to not contract out this function and keep the public at risk. My idea, I reiterated, was to outsource this patrol function on a temporary basis, just a year or two.
Brown wasted no time in telling me what he thought.
“The underlying assumption with your naïve suggestion is one that most people in the ‘contract everything out’ camp don’t understand either: Police resources throughout California are severely limited! As you might also remember from legitimate news reports on our CHP agreement, as-well-as my numerous reports to the city council, the CHP pulled out of the Hemet contract due to a SEVERE LACK OF STAFFING,” wrote Brown in a response email. “I personally traveled to Sacramento twice to meet with the Governor’s staff in an effort to get them to continue the program. The notion that CHP or RSO or any other agency has officers or deputies standing by in a warehouse waiting to be contracted to Hemet is total hogwash. Why can’t you embrace the concept of investing in our LOCAL police force to deal with LOCAL issues? Countless studies have shown that community policing by community police departments is the best practice by all measures.
“If you’ve been paying attention to any of the goings-on outside of Hemet, you would know that the Sheriff has pulled most of his resources off of regional task forces (including our Gang Task Force) due to budget and staffing constraints,” continued Brown. “He has reported severe staffing challenges throughout the county and jail system. So, while it might seem to you that I am being ‘irresponsible not to contract this out and keep the public at risk’…I assure you that this is not an option for the CHP or any other agency. If you have influence with the Governor, feel free to give him a call.”
Well, I did make some calls and spoke to Riverside County Assistant Sheriff Joseph Cleary. He said: “The current budget challenges have little to do with our contract operations as those are cost neutral. Budget shortfalls and challenges each year so often in the media are focused on those portions of the Sheriff’s budget that are directly funded by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors.
“So the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department continues to provide contract services which are also expanding in some areas despite our current budget situation,” continued Cleary. “As such, we will continue to carefully consider any formal request for contracted police services or other support dependent upon the scope, type of services requested, and the location within Riverside County.”
So that’s the response from the Sheriff’s Department. They can and will provide this function, if called upon for a bid.
I’m waiting for my call back from CHP and the Governor’s office. I’ll keep you posted.
What do you think we should do to keep our citizens safe until the Hemet Police Department can build up its ranks to fight the War on Crime? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll print as many responses as I can.