The Long Beach Police Department is bringing on three “neighborhood services” specialists to work with community groups in north, east and the newly consolidated west patrol divisions while shifting other staff around as the department works to maintain its public safety function in the face of recent budget cuts.
The department took a total $6.1-million financial hit for the fiscal year 2013 budget, which began in October. The budget reductions, due in large part to sparse city revenue and increasing employee costs, are part of the nearly $17-million cut to the General Fund approved by the Long Beach City Council on Sept. 17.
The cuts, however, were slightly less harsh than originally proposed. During the budget process earlier this year, the city council was able to restore millions of dollars in cuts after finding new funding resources. Some were structural restorations and others involved using City oil revenue to pay for “one-time” expenditures. For the remainder of the fiscal year, the new funding is able to restore cuts to library services, parks, recreation & marine services, public works services and police services.
The police department, which still had to eliminate 40 sworn-police-officer positions, including 19 police service specialist (PSS) positions, through attrition, received a total of $2.7 million in restoration funding. Much of the one-time funding went to restore four PSS positions to support vice investigations, sex crimes detail, crime lab and the east division, along with funding 10 police officers and one sergeant assigned to gang enforcement. The remainder of the funding went to restore the prisoner transport unit and the department’s overtime fund.
The city council also budgeted a $2.9-million police academy.
Braden Phillips, the police department’s administrative bureau chief, said the department was able to save three PSS positions, once called “neighborhood liaisons” originally slated for the chopping block, by transferring $270,000 from the City’s development services department and converting those positions to a new classification known as “neighborhood services” specialist or public safety coordinator. He said two employees, who were on a priority list after being laid off due to the elimination of redevelopment, were reassigned to the positions.
The newly assigned civil service staff won’t have the same classification as the police-services staff, but they will have many of the same duties, such as working with neighborhood groups, Phillips said. He said the new staff will be working on more “broader issues” than the typical “crime focus” provided in the past.
“I think the community in all areas has expressed concern about the loss of their police services specialists,” Phillips said. “We hope that neighborhood services specialists will allow us to provide a very similar service to the community.”
One of the new specialists will be in charge of the new west division, which will be completely consolidated with the south division within the “next few days,” Phillips said. Police officers previously assigned to the south division will deploy out of the west division substation at 1835 Santa Fe Ave. instead of police headquarters in downtown. The west patrol division is located north of Anaheim Street up to Wardlow Road, west of Cherry Avenue and along the west border of Signal Hill. The south patrol division is bounded by Anaheim Street to the waterfront, and from Cherry Avenue to Harbor Scenic Drive.
The decision to consolidate the divisions was an extensive undertaking that involved months of planning, according to a statement from the police department, that states the consolidation will begin as a pilot project and will be evaluated on a regular basis to “assess efficiency and effectiveness, impact on crime, community response, response times, logistics, technological needs, and impact on police personnel.”
In addition, Phillips said some police staff members were recently “bumped” due to seniority. Marlene Arrona, who previously worked as a PSS for the north patrol division, has now taken a position as one of the department’s public information officers (PIO), while Nancy Pratt, who already works as a PIO, is maintaining her position.
However, he called the restorations simply a way for the City to “forestall” budget cuts, adding that the ability for the department to continue funding the positions on an ongoing basis and next fiscal year is still up for debate. “We’re hopeful that, at least during FY 2013, we’ll be able to meet the community’s needs,” Phillips said.