City Council: Feasibility study for VC Sheriff services taken off the table

December 05, 2003
Santa Paula City Council

A City Council split meant the end to a proposed feasibility study by the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department on what it would cost the city to contract for law enforcement services.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesA City Council split meant the end to a proposed feasibility study by the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department on what it would cost the city to contract for law enforcement services. The decision came after a lengthy discussion and public comment urging that the council not to consider eliminating the police department.City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz had proposed that the council approve the $22,500 study, noting that “although there is much concern in the community” over the potential loss of local law enforcement control, Santa Paula must provide services comparable to the rest of the county.One such option is a November 2004 ballot issue to ask for voter support for new revenues to implement improvements, Bobkiewicz noted.There is a tremendous difference in salaries of Santa Paula police and firefighters and “compensation parity will continue to grow anywhere from 40 to 60 percent. . .if we not act soon,” it will become impossible to hire “good people.”The police department management audit is due in January.“I don’t think they’d come back and say ‘We don’t think you will want to go with us,’ “ said Paul Spencer of the proposed VCSD study.Other areas provided VCSD service are not crime free and chances are Santa Paula would have cuts in patrol hours, said Spencer. “It’s unbelievable the amount of service the SPPD gives to the community.”“You’re talking to the guys at the top level,” of the VCSD, said Scotty Chavez. “You know what they [VCSD deputies] tell me about this? It’s stupid and they don’t want the job.”Contracting is a complex issue, said Santa Paula Police Officers Association President Sgt. Ish Cordero.Patrol staffing is the same as it was in the 1970s although there has been a large increase in population and the number of service calls.“In the last 25 years we’ve seen compensation slip,” dramatically from 1974, when the SPPD was 5 percent below the highest paid agencies in the county and 1 percent more than the VCSD, to the present day double digit lag of SPPD salaries.
Staff report comparisons of Santa Paula to Fillmore and Moorpark should be ignored due to demographics and other issues, said Sgt. Cordero.If the city lost the SPPD, the “character of law enforcement would change,” including a close relationship between the community and its cops. “We were doing community policing,” before it became a trend, he noted. “Sense of duty is a strong motivator,” and SPPD officers enjoy working in the city in spite of low pay.Sgt. Cordero said he is hopeful that local control will be retained.“What value do you place on commitment to community and commitment to service?” asked SPPD Chief Bob Gonzales, who noted that whenever there has been a disaster, officers have responded “without being called and served your community well.”“I think public safety employees are doing a wonderful job,” and there is no criticism meant for the “work you do for us and the community,” said Vice Mayor Mary Ann Krause.Until the community has full public safety option information “we cannot ask them to tax themselves,” to enhance public safety. The VCSD is not a “panacea. . .there are good officers and bad officers, they get some top quality people and others not top notch.”Councilman Ray Luna questioned Prop. 172 funds and its scant impacts on local services. “We’ve been asking for more but nobody is listening to us. . .”Councilman John Procter said report comparisons lacked calls for service and that Santa Paula had almost three times as many calls as Fillmore and over double Moorpark’s.The VCSD is also being audited, he added, but “I think my biggest objection is loss of local control; once you join the club they send you the bill and once you go to the sheriff’s they don’t come back.”Councilman Rick Cook said he would await the results of the management audit: “We paid good money for that to tell us our strong points and weak points. . .I support the SPPD and don’t want to see a khaki uniform here if I can help it. I’m for just trying to work on one problem at a time instead of tearing our house up.”“We need some money and have to go to the voters” and more information is needed “so we can buttress arguments” against a tax, said Mayor Gabino Aguirre. “We have to go after something 100 percent and win. . .the future of Santa Paula rides on this initiative.”With a split vote - Aguirre and Krause wanted to proceed with the study - the council decided not to pursue the VCSD feasibility study.

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