Mod: Strong article from Terry Miller of the Sierra Madre Weekly on City Hall's latest crisis du jour. It hit their website yesterday and has yet to be published in the paper edition, which is distributed on Thursdays. For the original setting click here.
According to a press release sent out by Sierra Madre last night “Staffing levels within the Sierra Madre Police Department (SMPD) have reached a level where there are insufficient personnel to provide safe and reliable police services twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.”
This in itself, of course is extremely alarming for any city but especially one that has been recently plagued with residential burglaries, yet ironically was also just named one of the safest cities in California by a survey company.
The troubles at the Sierra Madre PD have been long and serious, including multiple lawsuits both aimed at the dept. from citizens, and from within the department itself. Additionally, the tiny city has little sales tax base unlike neighboring cities such as Arcadia.
A tough time indeed for this embattled little city.
Elisa Cox, Assistant City Manager, told the Sierra Madre Weekly Friday that the city is actively seeking new police recruits from the police academy but freely admits other cities pay considerably more than the SMPD. This is key in the dilemma this city’s chief executives face. Cox also said the election and the UUT tax will, of course, also play a crucial role in deciding the fate of the police.
A Sierra Madre Police Sergeant was dismissed during closed session at a City Council Meeting held on July 14, 2009. In response to a request for information related to this dismissal, City Manager Elaine Aguilar said that “personnel matters are confidential, and we really can’t say anything. People have a right to privacy.” No further information was able to be obtained regarding the dismissal.
According to Federal District Court filings, John Ellins, a SMPD officer, filed a lawsuit against the City of Sierra Madre and Marilyn Diaz. The suit was filed on June 3, 2009 under the category of “Civil Rights – Employment.” Marilyn Diaz was the police Chief of the Sierra Madre Police Department at that time. She was the first female police chief in L.A. County.
Also in 2009, at Approximately 3:30 a.m. Jan 30, a Sierra Madre police officer discovered a Nissan SUV within the city that had been reported stolen. The Nissan was towed back to the rear of the police station on Sierra Madre Blvd. To their surprise, officers opened the hatchback of the SUV and found a man in the vehicle’s cargo area where he had allegedly been sleeping under a blanket.
Why the officer(s) didn’t see the individual before the car was towed has been the subject of much speculation and supposition. 46-year-old Jason Jensen had allegedly been living in the car that had been reported as stolen. The SMPD’s Henry Amos then shot Jensen with a single round to his upper torso.
An internal investigation was completed and the now Detective Henry Amos is back on duty.
The city has been divided over the possibility of outsourcing for police services. On one side are residents who believe that their police officers do not appreciate their recent pay raises and generally have a negative attitude about working in Sierra Madre. They call for the police services to be outsourced, which would save the city money and potentially receive better service.
A central comment on both sides of this question relates to the salaries of the police department. Some say that the SMPD already receives too much money from the city, while others believe the SMPD remains one of the lowest paid departments despite help from their recent raise funded by the now-controversial Utility Users Tax increase passed in 2008.
At their Tuesday, January 26 meeting, the City Council will review an agreement with the City of Arcadia to temporarily provide police patrol services, seven days a week between the hours of 6:00 pm and 6:00 am beginning Sunday, February 7, 2016.
Over the course of the last few months, the Sierra Madre Police Department has lost nine of its twenty full-time employees, three part-time Community Service Officers, and one part-time Police Officer. There is a good possibility that the Department may lose a few more employees in the coming weeks.
Employees are resigning for a variety of reasons including retirement, an opportunity to work at higher paying departments, a perceived lack of job security in light of the scheduled decrease of the Utility Users Tax and the pending revenue measure on the April ballot.
According to City Manager Elaine Aguilar, the “No on UUT” measure did qualify for the ballot by getting a sufficient number of qualified signatures. However, it was too late to put it on the April 2016 ballot per both Election Code and the City Clerk.
The proponents did not request a special election so pursuant to the elections code the measure would technically go on the April 2018 election. However, the City Council could decide to consolidate with a County Election, for example in June 2016 or November 2016. The Council has not yet decided to consolidate with the County – they will be discussing their options during the February City Council meetings.”
During the term of the temporary contract, the Sierra Madre Police Department will continue to staff a dispatcher in the Sierra Madre Police Station during the nighttime hours. This will allow the Dispatcher to greet and assist walk-in lobby traffic, answer routine business calls such as overnight parking permits, and lessen the temporary impact to citizens who call the Police Department. All non-critical reports and calls for service will be handled by SMPD officers during their daytime shift.
The Sierra Madre City Council will review the contract at its regular meeting on Tuesday, January 26, 2016 at 6:30pm in the City Council Chambers, 232 W. Sierra Madre Blvd. The Arcadia City Council is scheduled to review the contract at its February 2, 2016 meeting. The temporary supplemental policing services for nighttime patrol is anticipated to begin on Sunday, February 7, 2016 and be in effect until June of 2016.
For additional information, the Sierra Madre staff report is available on the City’s website at: http://www.cityofsierramadre.com/