Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Tale Of Two Planets

It's funny, but every once in a while you can read something out there that actually smacks of the truth. It doesn't happen too much, and more often than not it's because somebody either made a mistake or just blabbed too much. Sometimes it even takes the comparison of two or more articles to tease out the real meaning of things. And that is what we plan on doing today. Because the contrast is truly revealing of the kind of cant and propaganda that often passes for legitimate debate in this town.

The cause of the situation we are about to explore today is the recent initiative presented by our City Council to find a way to cut the General Fund budget through out-sourcing some of our city services. And since the Sierra Madre Police Department will soon account for 52% of that General Fund, it is only natural that other law enforcement options be at least explored.

The first nugget of half-truth comes from the article on our possibly "contracting out for police services" that ran last Friday in the Pasadena Star News. In this piece Sierra Madre City Councilman Joe Mosca attempts to make a case for maintaining our Police Force exactly as it is today. His reason for this being the wonderful sense of community and shared responsibility they enjoy with the residents of this town.

"Having your own police department, from a community perspective, allows for the type of policing that Sierra Madreans have become accustomed to," Mosca said. "The police know the residents' names, know the folks in the community, and work with residents to make sure the streets of Sierra Madre are as safe as possible."

(Where I grew up you actually didn't want the Police to know your name. And if they did it was for reasons you wished had never happened. But that's something we can talk about another time.)

Now Joe's description here makes the current condition sound down right paradisiacal. A community working together with its Police to keep the town not just free of criminals and crime, but also to build a society based on trust and caring. The kind of synergy that most people hope for in a community, but so rarely exists out there in the real world.

And here's the comparison. Over on the Sierra Madre Weekly site there is a rather rambling letter from someone identifying themself as being a "Local law enforcement employee." And the viewpoint that "Llee" shares with us certainly does not mesh with what we're hearing from Joe. It is a rather long piece of writing, so we're going to pull out a single salient portion of this interesting and revealing post and trust you the reader to check out the whole thing on your own later. Believe me, it's worth it.

If you want officers to treat SMPD and your city as more than a door mat they use to get their foot in the law enforcement door, then pay them fairly and treat them with respect. Their equipment is substandard compared to other agencies because they do penny-pinch whether you know it or not. If you want officers to act professionally, then give them a decent wage. If you do not, don't expect them to stick around long enough to really care about your city and your problems. The citizens overwhelmingly ooze a disrespectful attitude towards police employees. I for one could not tolerate serving people like those that live in this city. High maintenance residents and business owners forcing officers to be at their beck and call is worth much more than what they're paid. Officers are required to swallow their pride, and be YES-men and women and basically do whatever the residents want. What six figure would SM residents demand in pay to roll over and put up with the BS like the SMPD employees have to?

Now I might be reading a little too much into this, but don't the accounts of Joe Mosca and "Llee" strike you as being a bit distant from one another? The first would have us think that everything is just as good as it could possibly be, while the other speaks of an oppressed force crushed under the boot of an ungrateful and self-indulgent community of privileged career adolescents.

One question that I would have for "Llee" is exactly how is this oozing disrespect shown to the officers of the SMPD? Do the "high maintenance" taxpayers here habitually stick out their tongues at our men in blue? Do they regularly assault them with haughty looks and high hat attitudes? Have there been cruel and insensitive instances of mooning? Obviously I am not clear on this point.

So is there any real truth to be found in either of these two accounts? Probably not. One is the voice of a disingenuous politician fighting to keep a 100% tax hike in place for reasons that I doubt have much to do with cops. The other an unidentified individual regurgitating a technique straight out of the Lackie & Dammeier "Police Officers' Association" handbook on how to deal with situations like the one I described earlier.

Most of the cops in this part of the world are represented by something called the Police Officers' Association, or POA. And this POA is an organization put together by a law firm called Lackie & Dammeier. These two gents, former police officers themselves, have made quite a lucrative career for themselves representing officers from towns such as ours. And they've done it by using some extremely aggressive techniques. And a few of these aggressive techniques are alluded to in "Llee's" post on the SMW website.

Here are a couple of pithy pieces of advice offered by Lackie & Dammeier:

Public Message - Always keep this in mind. The public could care less about your pay, medical coverage and pension plan. All they want to know is "what is in it for them." Any public positions or statements by the association should always keep that in focus. 

Isn't that pretty much the gist of what "Llee" says in the post made on the SMW site? That we, the civilian population of Sierra Madre, only care about ourselves? And that the needs of the Police are really of no concern to us?

Here's another nugget:

Public Ridicule - Blunders by the City Manager, Mayor, or City Council members ... should be highlighted and pointed out to the public at every opportunity.

From the perspective of "Llee" the blunder here is the City Council not paying the SMPD as much as he/she thinks they should. The consequence being the endangerment of the residents of Sierra Madre by causing experienced officers to leave for better paying cities, among other things.

So there you go, the tale of two planets. Both with their own distinct agendas, and neither willing to share their thoughts in an upfront and honest way. Obviously we need to turn our backs on both and chart a course that best serves the needs of the people actually paying the bills around here. Because if we don't this nonsense will just go on and on.

46 comments:

  1. Quite a mix of conflicting viewpoints. Two different brands of baloney, both designed to make the same old sandwich.

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  2. Good thought!We need a "Plan of Correction", this continued enmity is absurd.Apparently in the past monies were reallocated from essential services into other projects of "interest" which diminished the Police/Fire Services.Perhaps revisit these issues along with a Forensic Audit( which is greeted with such alarm).Maybe just maybe we can find some daylight,be it local or County.The goal is finding solution!

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  3. I agree with Molly....."The goal is finding solution".
    I sure don't know what the solution is, like Sir Eric points out....there is some truth and some BS on both sides of the issue-(isn't it always the case).
    I would sure like to hear some opinions of you posters on the Tattler.

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  4. All emotions and resentments aside if LLee is correct, it doesn't sound like our police force are doing much real police work. They seem to be doing busy work other police forces would laugh off.

    The Pasadena Star News article said La Canada was paying $2.4 million for contract policing with a population of 20,000; Westlake Village is paying $1.8 million with a population of 8000. Paying twice as much for policing than a community twice as large as our own doesn't seem to make much sense especially if they're not really dealing with much crime and can't stand to work here.

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  5. You need to divide these people into two camps. There
    are those that work for us, and those who don't. No one
    should ever assume that just because our tax money
    pays the way they necessarily have our interests in mind.
    Odds are pretty good they don't.

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  6. 8:22 - Good point. Llee actually makes busy work heart of the defense offered in the Weekly post. But you have to ask yourself, what real police work is there that needs doing? If they weren't performing kitten up a tree kinds of things, what would they do with their time? On the one hand Llee claims such things are degrading to their stature as Police, but maybe that's what the job of being a cop in Sierra Madre really is all about?

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  7. Ed, That raises another question. If this is a kitten up a tree sort of town, then why does our Police Dept need 24 employees. That sounds pretty glutted for a town of 11,000 peopel.

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  8. Sorry about the typo people!!

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  9. High Maintenance Sierra Madre ResidentJuly 21, 2009 at 8:40 AM

    Gosh, so how do we approach these people with our requests? If LLee is representative of the attitudes of our Police Officers, they do seem to be a touchy and sensitive group.

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  10. Let's personalize the police situation.
    They currently use up 52% of our city's income.
    Take your monthly income, deduct 52% for security around your home and what $$$ amount do you have left to pay all your other expenses?
    EG: $8000 a month income minus $4000+ deduction leaves you a little under $4000 for all your other monthly expenses.
    Outrageous.

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  11. Sir Eric, your observation that the Police Dept. will soon account for a staggering 52% of the general fund is accurate only to a point. The Police Officers Association (POA) has filed lawsuits on behalf of officers and also embroiled the City in police personnel grievances. Accordingly, your 52% figure has now ballooned into something much higher.

    Sadly, the lawsuits and grievances show no sign of being resolved quickly. In fact, if the history of nearby cities is any guide, Sierra Madre will be looking at even more lawsuits and grievances pursued by the POA on behalf of officers in the upcoming months.

    And, if that's not bad enough, we have a "local law enforcement employee" writing a letter to the editor complaining that after the largest police raise in Sierra Madre history, our police officers deserve to be paid even more!

    According to the local law enforcment employee, those officers deserve higher salaries because the residents of Sierra Madre, are "disrespectful," high-maintenance" and subject the police department to "BS." Of course, what's missing from the diatribe against our residents are more legitimate reasons for police raises which include having to respond to/deter violent crime.

    If our police think they are so underpaid and consider our residents disrespectful, high-maintenance and full of BS, why don't those same officers look for work in another City? For example, those officers could seek employment in a City where they would be required to fight violent crime.

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  12. I would advocate hireing a security guard service a la the mall. No guns for these guys just radios to call in what they see. Keep six cops just in case one of these Abbott and Costello types blunders upon one of Sierra Madres broad daylight burgleries, you know the type of crime, the one you read about in the blotter where the police quote,"between 7:00am Thursday and 9:00pm Saturday sumthin' happened". At least the Security Guard Yahoos would be proactive unlike our trained professional reactive force of overpaid, bored, chippy, stuffed bule shirts.

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  13. Isn't the threat of POA lawsuits a really good reason to outsource the PD? And I think that any person calling in a burglary/crime in which their unlocked car parked overnight in their driveway with a computer, a purse containing several hundred dollars, and an iPod should be fined an amount equal to the loss claimed.

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  14. MarieR, my wife said that to me one day after reading the litiney of loot carted away out of a car on Grandview, she said the only things the poor guy didn't stash in his car was a shopping bag full of money and the Hope Diamond.

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  15. Ha-ha! Like that suggestion Anonymous 9:26 a.m. Security guards without weapons, since our professionals don't seem to know when and why to draw theirs, would be an effective, inexpensive solution...

    I've always found it astonishing that these cops complain about their jurisdiction. It's innately safe and quiet (not necessarily the result of their good work) and instead of fighting with the residents for respect they could be earning it by doing something more proactive and constructive. Why not walk the downtown beat instead of patrolling it in a car? Talk to people instead of glaring at them from a vehicle? I also agree with one of the previous posters - if they don't like working in Sierra Madre, move on to other PDs in other areas where the activity will keep them more on their toes, although the expressed attitude that the PD here has to put up with self-indulgent residents' BS implies that those officers who feel that way would not fare too well at other PDs, either. Bad attitudes and police work don't mesh too well. Don't they remember that a police person is considered a "public servant?" There should be some measure of humility associated with the position...

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  16. MR, and 9:56:

    Your comments are interesting.....and I totally agree with you.
    Makes you wonder if these "burglary claims" are even valid. Sounds like a good way to file a bogus insurance claim.

    Anyone dumb enough to leave their cars open with valuables deserves to lose them.

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  17. Wait, are you saying that Joe is wrong here? That the "residents" and police are not working together to keep Sierra Madre safe? That there actually is very little constructive communication?

    I'm shocked.

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  18. Poster 9:58. It's both the threat of future lawsuits and grievances and the continuing drain on the budget from the current lawsuits and grievances that's the problem.

    What also troubles me is the the way the POA played the town. The POA got the City Council to agree to support a utility tax increase to fund their raises. During the UUT campaign, the police made public pronouncements about how the UUT would usher in this new era of cooperation and good relations between the officers and our City Government. As soon as the UUT initiative passed, the POA started complaining about how the officers were so mistreated and started piling on the lawsuits and grievances.

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  19. 10:10 - But isn't that how the POA works? Just keep piling it on to extract as much as possible from city govts? They're more of a parasite than anything else.

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  20. I remember the good old days when the published police blotter had the silly calls, like the person who called in suspicious people entering a neighbor's house...and it turned out to be the neighbors or the time a Glady's Cravis called police about "white shirted young men on bicycles" in the area (Mormon's)

    Llee has got his head up his rear - the SMPD in the last 8 years or so have gotten a really nasty attitude, so why should locals treat them with anything but disdain - same group who had banners "Sierra Madre SUCKS" at the Wisteria Festival

    Same cops who pull guns on kids - I wonder just how qualified some are and if they are here because they can't get hired anywhere else and I wonder how many would pass psych exams in legit police departments

    I question why arrest numbers are up and then used to qualify the pay increase - especially when traffic arrests are made way outside SM's jurisdiction

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  21. Since the shenanigan years of Bart Doyle and his cronies changed the way the books were kept, funds were siphoned off from vital services and transferred to development projects of Bart's BIA and the California Realtors Association. This left our services like Police and Fire to dwindle on the vine.
    It leaves a very serious problem for our current city council members, MacGillivray, Zimmerman and Watts to correct.
    Please support their efforts, they are volunteers trying to correct long term policies that weren't in the interest of the residents.

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  22. I wanted to know why our city at half the size of La Canada has twice as much police staff and is paying over twice as much for police protection. So in order to compare apples to apples, I have turned to cold, hard statistics without all the emotion of rhetoric. I gathered statistics on Sierra Madre, La Canada and Westlake Village from websites at www.idcide.com, www.nationalrelocation and www.city-data.com. The statistics vary slightly depending on the website you use. Try a search with city name and the term “crime statistics.”

    I put the statistics into tables so we could look at them side by side. My statistics class was many, many moons ago so feel free to improve on this cobbling together of web research (they appear below if Sir Eric’s server allows).

    My Observation:

    Two far richer communities (with very similar crime statistics), which presumably have better coffers than ours find a far leaner contract services and leaner police staffing to be sufficient.

    General Statistics

    Sierra Madre La Canada Flintridge Westlake Village
    Population
    (SM) 10,834
    (LCF) 20998
    (WLV) 8469

    Number of Households
    (SM) 4756
    (LCF) 6823
    (WLV) 3270

    Median Income
    (SM) $83,682
    (LCF) $139,668
    (WLV) $120,089

    Amount City Pays for Police Protection According to Pasadena Star News

    Sierra Madre $6.4 Million* or 52% of General Fund for 24 person city police department. *Current budget amounts do not include cost of litigation or the costs incurred for future obligations for retirement and other benefits.

    La Canada Flintridge pays $2.4 Million or 21% of General Fund for contract with Sheriff for 12
    officers.

    Westlake Village pays $1.8 Million for contract with Sheriff for 9 officers.

    Compare crime levels to California’s average level:
    Sierra Madre is noted as having property crime levels much lower than the California average level while LCF/WLV are noted as having property crime levels lower than the California average level. All three cities are noted as having violent crime levels much lower than the California average level.

    This info was pulled off www.city-data.com so that we could compare the cities of Sierra Madre, La Canada Flintridge and Westlake
    Village side by side.

    Law Enforcement Statistics

    Compare the City-data.com crime index data side by side. The higher the index, the more crime. The national average is 320.9

    1999
    SM: 72.7

    2000
    SM: 61.9

    2001
    SM: 85.3
    WLV: 104.1

    2002

    SM 107.4
    LCF: 139.1
    WLV: 157.1

    2003

    SM: 86.2
    LCF: 96.4
    WLV: 113.1

    2004

    SM: 73.5
    LCF: 140.1
    WLV: 115.1

    2005

    SM: 111.8
    LCF: 102.2
    WLV: 129.0

    2006

    SM: 130.5
    LCF: 100.3
    WLV: 177.9

    2007

    SM: 153.8
    LCF: 137.2
    WLV: 134.8

    Go to the website and search each city for a info on crime stats 2001-2007 crime by crime.

    Observation:

    The crime indexes look pretty comparable to me with La Canada, a larger city with less police staff have a lower crime index than Sierra Madre at certain times.

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  23. Anon 9:26 I like the idea of having different levels of officers. Have fewer highly paid officers to deal with serious matters, and many more lower paid "security" types to keep an eye on things, get cats out of trees, ticket litterers, etc. More coverage, lower expenses. In my neighborhood (in Pasadena), we do something similar. We contracted Post security to patrol our area. They have called the Police several times late at night when spotting suspicious activity resulting in some fruitful arrests.

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  24. Could there be no satisfactory solution?Sounds as if the Police have the City over the old barrel with law suits.This is not mentioning the other law suits that are alledged to be out there.There are certainly reasons to agree with others that the City has been mismanaged in the past in all areas and "chickens are coming home to roost".Whether a reasonable solution can be found without sinking the City completely,we can only wait to see.

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  25. Great research 11:05.
    Welcome to Sir Eric's Research Team

    The city should get bids from other agencies. If the bids are lower than what we currently pay our officers,we should offer our police the lowest bid. If they accept ...great. If not too bad... so sad.

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  26. Arnold Palmer (the drink, not the golfer)July 21, 2009 at 12:06 PM

    That was some "historic agreement" Enid got us with the POA ..

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  27. RE Pasta 12:00

    I don't think offering our police the lowest bid would work in the long run:
    You don't get rid of POA
    You don't get rid of long term retirement obligations that are really a serious hidden cost [one of the reasons the big three auto companies went down [and the crappy cars)]
    You still have disgruntled, resentful full time city employees who hate the town for being such skin flints

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  28. Lacey at 11:57, never say never.

    We as a town have the right to change directions. We can lay off or terminate redundant employees if these jobs are eliminated by the decision to contract out services.

    If the POA sues us over that have we really lost anything? I mean we're already being sued and sticking with this disgruntled police department just buys us a the chance to have a multitude of new lawsuits in the future - especially since our police appear to be getting more and more aggressive with the tea room incident, the tickets and the whole shooting that suspect in that car.

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  29. Anon..11:57....Thanks, that is hopeful!It makes good sense!

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  30. Where,how and why does Diaz fit into this picture?

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  31. Well Diaz is the expensive (I presume) chief of police so I suppose if the Dept goes then she would not be needed to manage the department. If we liked some of the officers in our department and the contracting police or sheriff felt it was necessary to add people to service our town, then I am sure the qualified personnel would have a shot at signing on to continue to police our town as new employees of the other police or sheriff dept. However, these people may not pass muster at these other departments bz of test scores, fitness or other issues. If the officers have not had a good job performance here, then I don't think the town should recommend them to be hired by the other entity.

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  32. Couldn't we cut the number of police we use and spend some of the money on a less expensive option for code enforcement, neighborhood problems, traffic, etc.

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  33. ..yes 2:44, I ask the same question and
    even more, how did Diaz get here, what were her qualifications and why have so many PO left? asked to leave? how do we the citizens get to the bottom of the story?

    and what is with the FDept. seems like the Chief is playing with his firetruck toys and very irresponsible, not all the volunteers seem as inmature, but what are the qualifications for a Chief?

    everything seems like ya gotta belong to a good ole boys/girls club here??

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  34. another questionJuly 21, 2009 at 3:22 PM

    Who was the sergeant who was dismissed just recently, announced at the end of the last council meeting?

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  35. Was it Lance Long?
    Lisa Bartolai Brandley? If you're reading this, do you know?
    I know Lisa posted a while back about the police.

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  36. The City lists Ruben Eriquez, Keith Abbot and Donna Cayson as Sergeants in a recent roster. Anyone missed anybody recently?

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  37. Anonymous at 3:57 pm, you could be right! LL's been MIA for some time and Lisa Bartolai Brandley indicated he had done something very bad. Ummmmmmm...

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  38. Lisa B.B. give us a report!

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  39. Lance REEAAALLLYYY LongJuly 21, 2009 at 5:41 PM

    Boy oh boy, if you don't know about LL you really are out of the loop here in SM, it's his business and I am not about to let this loose on this blog, research team, figure it out!

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  40. Just goes to show just how much Sierra Madre and its guardians in blue know each other. A Sgt gets shown the door and nobody even knows about it.

    Major impact makers, those guys.

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  41. I don't want to be disrespectfull, but Lance Long sounds like the name for a porn star.

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  42. He used to get a lot of ink on the Cumquat. Stuff like that really excites the dirts.

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  43. Sir Eric,
    Can you enlighten us regarding Sgt. Long's departure, even without going into personal details? Some time ago I heard a rumor that he had been fired so I emailed the editors of our various papers and did not get a single reply. He was, in my opinion, a true "community police officer" and I for one would like to know what happened, even in generalities. Thanks.

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  44. Get rid of the police and contract out to the Sheriff's dept. It's the logical thing to do. Why the city council can't see that is beyond me. I for one am tired of walking home at night only to be harrassed by the police because they think I have been drinking..isn't that the responsible thing to do? I am tired of my family, friends and myself being pulled over for such BS excuses as not stopping at the limit line at SM Bl and Sunnyside. They must not have much to do if that's their biggest thrill of the day. I must be one of the people they refer to with the bad attitude as I give them the finger every time I see them...well they can't see it but it makes me feel better! haha...seriously dump the PD and the UUT!

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  45. I hear Diaz is on the war-path again.

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