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Rohnert Park considers outsourcing police service

By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Rohnert Park officials have asked the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office how much it would cost to take over the city’s police services.

The preliminary inquiry, which has upset many in police ranks, is part of an investigation into achieving savings by contracting out any number of city services, City Manager Gabe Gonzalez said.

“I am looking at all city services and trying to look at all possible savings and law enforcement is part of that,” Gonzalez said. “I advised my other department heads that I am evaluating their services and costs as well.”

The Department of Public Safety, which combines police and fire protection services, was created with Rohnert Park’s founding in 1962. The department’s $15.5 million budget accounts for about 54 percent of the city’s general fund, making it the biggest target when it comes to savings.

Police departments also typically have a psychological tie to their communities that other services, such as planning or finance, don’t. Sonoma residents fought an emotional, ultimately losing battle in 2004 when city leaders decided to disband their police department in favor of a Sheriff’s Office contract.

“Public safety is visible,” said Rohnert Park Councilwoman Pam Stafford. “People see their public safety officers in the neighborhoods every day.”

While the public has yet to learn much about the step Gonzalez has taken, it has rattled the Rohnert Park department from the top through the rank and file.

“I’m certainly concerned,” said Public Safety Chief Brian Masterson. “I’m not necessarily an advocate for contracting out police services. I think our public safety model provides good services to the community, and it does save money to have the functions combined.”

Emotions at the department are running high, Masterson said. “Why is this happening? Betrayal. Probably some anger — and I understand all that.”

Sgt. Dale Utecht, president of the 71-member Rohnert Park Public Safety Officers Association, the city’s largest employee union, said he did not know beforehand that Gonzalez was going to ask the Sheriff’s Office for a proposal.

“We weren’t consulted, and it would have been nice to know before they made the official request,” Utecht said.

Vicki Vidak-Martinez, a former mayor who was on the City Council during a similar 2006 inquiry, said Gonzalez might have done well to include the union and Masterson, who also found out after the fact, more in the process. But, she said, he also is under pressure to fix the budget problem.

“When you’re squeezed as much as he is, you don’t have a lot of time to be diplomatic,” she said. “I think he’s going to get a lot of backlash.”

Utecht said the union, which also includes dispatchers, will meet Thursday to decide what to do.

“It’s concerning to our members for sure,” he said.

Previous inquiries into contracting out public safety services met with stiff opposition.

“They were hysterical,” Vidak-Martinez said, recalling the union’s reaction to the 2006 proposal, which was never acted on.

She said the council that year decided that the Sheriff’s Office plan didn’t suit the city’s needs.

“We looked at comparable service and felt that it probably wasn’t going to happen,” she said.

Councilman Joe Callinan, who was elected with strong support from the union, said attempts to contract out for police services would not go over easily.

“I think there would be a whole lot of concern, and I think there should be,” he said. “No one wants to lose their police department because once you lose them, you’ll never get it back.”

For him to support such a move, he said, “Boy it would have to be a big, big savings.”

But Callinan also has been an vocal supporter of Gonzalez since he assumed the city’s top management position. And he said Gonzalez is doing what he is paid to do.

“He’s just doing his job the way he sees best. He’s got to look at everything,” he said. “He’s doing a great job, and he’s just doing his due diligence to show us all the options.”

The city has held meetings with the neighboring Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District to examine ways to share resources, Masterson said.

But with 17 out of 61 officers assigned to fire services, and with the discussions focused on enhanced mutual aid and joint trainings, that is a less touchy topic.

“This is a sensitive matter,” Gonzalez acknowledged. “But at this point there is nothing to be concerned with this is just me looking at the cost analysis.”

The Sheriff’s Office has not submitted its proposal to Gonzalez yet.

Besides Sonoma, Windsor is the only other city in the county to contract for police services with the Sheriff’s Office; it has done so since incorporating in 1992.





41 Responses to “Rohnert Park considers outsourcing police service”

  1. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    RE: The Facts – “You currently pay taxes to have this service, why not ask the city council why this money is going to heated pools and the Spreckels Center instead of our safety.”

    ‘The Facts’ needs to check with the facts: pools have been closed and parks are running much leaner, not having the grass mowed as frequently as in years past, and restrooms that have been closed and replaced with port-a-potties. Our newest multi-million dollar M-pool has now been closed for two years and there is one port-a-pottie for all the soccer and baseball fields. And wasn’t part of Spreckles shut-down?

    We pay taxes not only for police and fire services, but also for parks and recreation. At least part of the problem is the huge amount of overtime that is paid out to safety personnel. Of course, they won’t complain, since they are the beneficiaries. Want to talk about the unfunded city employee retirement costs? We’re paying for that too. And yes, people will say that we need the police to fight the crime by locking these people up. Except, if you’ve been reading the news, ten of thousands of prisoners are being released early, or plea-bargaining and not even going jail in the first place. We’re kidding ourselves if we really think our streets are safer by bankrupting city government under the premise of ‘safety officers first’.

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  2. The Facts says:

    “You get what you pay for”
    This is a perfect statement why resourcing Sonoma County Sheriff in Rohnert Park is a bad idea. In these economic times the last thing you want to do is announce that your city is cutting down on law enforcement. You claim that you have not seen what the police force does, this is because they have been doing their job. Cutdown or outsource and you WILL see what could happen. You currently pay taxes to have this service, why not ask the city council why this money is going to heated pools and the Spreckels Center instead of our safety.

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  3. BigDogatlPlay says:

    What, exactly, does the unending leftist quest for citizen review boards have to do with the topic at hand?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  4. Citizens Review Boards: End Impunity says:

    We need citizens review boards to oversee law enforcement in every city and for the county sheriff’s department. The impunity and lack of concern for the real public safety needs of the community has made the police forces a threat to the liberty of the citizens, not a defender of their liberty.

    I’m surprised that the Tea Party, “Don’t tread on me” folks don’t have this as one of their top priorities. Unless, of course, they are merely a paid faux grass roots front for the RNC, funded by right-wing billionaires like the Koch Brothers, as many of us already suspect. Show us your true colors!

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  5. Steven D. says:

    I was quite distressed when I read this story. We have a great Police Dept. here in RP. I remember just last year voting in a tax increase guranteed for the police dept. I voted yes to the increase and now I wonder if they get the shriffs department do we get a repeal on the increase or even a refund for the extra taxes paid specifically to keep the great officers that we have. Get rid of the city manager first. one mans opinion

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3

  6. The 4th amendment: RIP says:

    It’s hard to get enthusiastic about any aspect of the police services anywhere in this county or in the U.S. in general. We now live in a police state where the security forces devote their energy to oppressing ethnic and cultural minorities. You can be stopped and searched on the flimsiest of pretenses.

    We have gradually ceded our civil rights to the “law and order’ right wing, who demands that the government get off our backs, unless it is to keep us on oppressive and selective surveillance, and enforce an arbitrary and cruel regime that is gradually filling our prisons with non-violent offenders, so that the police can meet their quotas. The safety of citizens is a secondary consideration.

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  7. Otto Link says:

    MAYBE BLACKWATER IS AVAILABLE.

    They have their own bullet proof vests and riot gear.

    I feel safer.

    DON’T YOU?

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 9

  8. BigDogatlPlay says:

    Some myths from this thread and truths about contracting for police services:

    ** MYTH: The deputies won’t ever be there.
    FACT: The assigned deputies would be based at the city’s already existing police department facility. See Sonoma, Windsor, American Canyon as local examples.

    ** MYTH: All the officers are eligible to be hired by the sheriff’s office.
    FACT: While eligible, they seldom are in great numbers. Ask the former Sonoma PD guys how many of them went to the SCSO post contract… about a third. In Los Angeles county, where the sheriff does many contracts, typically half or less of the officers make the move to the sheriff’s department.

    **MYTH: The sheriff won’t provide the same amount of coverage.
    FACT: A basic car plan is a basic car plan. Rohnert Park DPS runs four beats, plus a supervisor, that likely would not change. Depending on the scheduling (likely four, ten hour shifts) there are overlaps at peak times where more officers would be available. Without the fire component basic beat coverage would likely improve.

    **MYTH: The city will save money on not having to pay pension costs.
    FACT: The city has to comp the sheriff for the cost of each headcount including pay, benefits and retirement. Granted that the Deputy Sheriffs are on a county retirement system with a much larger pool of insured, the city could actually see some savings.

    The rump of the RPDPS post consolidation would be the fire agency. If the city were to take the bold step of joining Rancho Adobe Fire District, as has been hinted, they would likely have better coverage from a more professionally staffed fire department. The addition of RP to the fire district would greatly improve the district’s financial standing and likely improve service and coverage across the district.

    And since it would force out a lot of the dead wood that works in RPDPS now, it seems like pretty much a win win to me.

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  9. Ian MacNair says:

    From http://www.watchsonomacounty.com/2010/11/county/guest-opinion-can-county-sheriffs-office-help-cities/

    “When the city of Sonoma contracted with the sheriff, it was able to maintain its autonomy by having its own police cars and a division director who reports to both the city manager and the sheriff. All of the city of Sonoma’s police officers were eligible for rehire by the Sheriff’s Office as long as they passed the background check. Once they did, they received additional training.

    Sonoma was then able to access the many highly specialized investigative crime units offered through the Sheriff’s Office at no additional cost to the city. They were able to keep a high number of officers on the streets, improve services and cut about $500,000 from their annual budget.

    Ken Brown was mayor of Sonoma when the city entered into the contract, and had this to say: “While I initially opposed the contract with the county, in the end it was one of the best things we ever did for the city.”

    Sales tax measures alone will not rescue the smaller cities from more significant budget cuts, cuts that may impact the most basic function of government: public safety.”

    Thumb up 19 Thumb down 6

  10. John says:

    I hope all of you know that when the city or the Press says ‘GENERAL FUND’ they are Not talking about total spending. There are multiple budgets that cities operate from so percent of one fund doesn’t equate to percent of total spending.

    Just FYI

    P.S. In most city charters the top priority is to ‘provide for the safety of the public’ so it makes sense that a larger part of the budget goes to that.

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  11. Sleepless on Stony Point says:

    All the details on this have been pretty much gone over here- My personal experience with the Rohnert Park Police? Let’s see… Lazy, apathetic, unless the subject of their $$ comes up. Unresponsive. Easily the most useless group of cops I’ve ever encountered. Seriously.

    Sonoma County Sheriff? No complaints here. Responsive. Informative. Helpful. Care about what they’re doing. I’d take them over RP police any day.

    If you’re concerned about the sheriff not showing up, please don’t hold your breath for RP- You might only get a phone call several hours later, if even that.

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  12. Pearl Alquileres says:

    More centralization of GOVERNMENT power never ends well. Never has, never will. Once the County has their hand in your pocket they’ll take more & more as the realities of their own fiscal mis-management force them to find revenue. The money they’re used to getting from Sacramento is being cut off so they’ll have no choice but to rape Municipalities or… GOD FORBID, cut spending. (yeah, THAT’LL happen!)

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 8

  13. RP MOM says:

    YES, YES, YES! Contract with the Sheriff. I bet dollars to donuts it is more cost effective. AND sad to say, over the years RPDPS has such a bad rep it is time we cleaned house. Let’s invite the Sheriff to enforce laws not look for ways to harrass the citizens of RP! Thank you new City Manager for taking the initiative to look outside the “warm & fuzzy” and actually try to do something for RP

    Thumb up 36 Thumb down 11

  14. Cool as Ice says:

    @wake up & remember, “Rancho Adobe is closer to parts of Rohnert Park and are Firemen only”. That offends me. News flash there are women firefighters. It’s firefighters not firemen.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 22

  15. wake up & remember says:

    There was an article in the Press Democrat about an officer making $186,000 in one year. I’m sure most of us will not make that much (he wasn’t a captain). I’m sure it is overtime by volunteering for overtime and showing up to fires when off duty when I’m sure they get a min of 4 hours pay. Is it true they get their retirement based on their last 3 years pay? Is it true they get extra in their pay for living in RP? Wouldn’t we all like a pension for working 30 years? Most of us are on a 401K which has not been very kind to us lately.

    Why can’t we merge with Cotati Police and Rancho Adobe fire department? Because they make less money, Cotati police already took more cuts in pay and benefits. Rancho Adobe is closer to parts of Rohnert Park and are Firemen only, they don’t show up with guns on their hips.

    I don’t want to take a cut in pay either, but when my company closed and moved overseas so did my pay.

    Thumb up 35 Thumb down 9

  16. RP Citizen says:

    Sonoma spends over 8 million for police and fire services (both of which are contracted out), out of a over 11 million budget. And according to the CA controller’s website, a Sonoma County Deputy Sheriff makes between 75,000-92,000 when a Public Safety Officer makes between 65,000-79,000. So where is this money saving talk about contracting coming from? Living in RP, I already have to pay more taxes due to measure E. I don’t want to pay more for the same services.

    Thumb up 19 Thumb down 9

  17. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    RE: joe blow – “I can tell you…the deputies will not be showing up anytime soon.”

    Well, I can tell you that years ago my home was burglarized on a Sunday evening. My next door neighbor saw it in progress and called 9-1-1 / RP police TWICE over a 20 minute period. By the time an officer finally did arrive, the burglary was ‘no longer in progress’ and both individuals got away.

    Guess it won’t really matter, as you claim, if the sheriff’s deputy takes awhile to respond: the RP police don’t get there any sooner. Either way, the bad guys get away.

    We can go back and forth, having people (city employees, police and family members?) posting ‘thumbs-down’ and the reality is at this point, it’s just a request for a financial bid. Everything should be on the table, and then let the voters decide.

    Maybe the sheriff’s department can’t touch the current costs that we now pay. On the other hand, maybe residents wouldn’t being paying for dual-titled positions, police vehicles, massive overtime and long-term retirement costs. Let’s find out, and put it to the voters of our city; you know them, the taxpayers.

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  18. David Tierra says:

    So in Joe Bolw’s opinion every Sheriff’s Department is the same. Joe there actual statistics out there for response times that can be looked at by RP if they wish to. And since it’s a contract it can be set any way they want. RP can say hey Sheriff’s Office if “cold” report response time goes above X minutes we get Y off the amount we pay you. It is all in the wording of the contract. Just because 1 Sheriff’s dept is slow to respond doesn’t mean the other one is too. It’s like saying Oakland PD is the same as San Francisco is the same as San Jose. All big departments but clearly not the same.

    Sounds like you lost your job when the city contracted. I’m sorry for you, but don’t paint with such a broad brush and use your experience(which I guess makes you an expert on police contracts) as a Police Officer to taint a reasonable discussion as to what WE and I mean me and my neighbors should do.

    Who I would be interested in hearing from are the residents of Windsor and Sonoma. Has this worked for you or should we figure something else out?

    Thumb up 21 Thumb down 8

  19. joe blow says:

    I can tell you from having lived in Sonoma County at one point, and having worked as a Police Officer in a city in the east bay that decided to contract out to a Sheriffs Offfice, it is a BAD idea. Unless there is a serious crime (ie murder, armed robbery,etc)in progress, the deputies will not be showing up anytime soon.

    The response times go up significantly.”Cold” crimes such as burglary, auto theft, fraud, ID theft are basically put in the back of a file drawer and never looked at again.

    While the numbers will look nice on paper for cost savings, having a Sheriffs Office in your town, I can tell you from my own experience, that it makes for VERY inefficient law enforcement in a town such as RP.

    Thumb up 13 Thumb down 29

  20. GAJ says:

    Looked at the link here provided by the PD on the Home page of this section to see what these folks make.

    Didn’t get much past the second page before I gave up.

    There are 15 Public Safety Dispatchers earning an average of about $75k who vest at 2.7%/yr can retire at age 55.

    Put another $20k or so on there for deferred comp and Health Insurance and you essentially have $100,000 Dispatchers!

    As Charlie Brown so eloquently said:

    “GOOD GRIEF!”

    Here’s the link for you to find some more nuggets; I’m too queasy to continue!

    http://www.watchsonomacounty.com/sonoma-county-salaries/?appSession=843201798935536&RecordID=&PageID=2&PrevPageID=1&cpipage=1&CPISortType=&CPIorderBy=

    Thumb up 22 Thumb down 14

  21. 0 Representation says:

    from the fire station.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 5

  22. 0 Representation says:

    @ Concerned one

    How much have homeowners insurance gone up due to low fire ratings?! Mine did and my home is LESS than 2 miles away.

    Thumb up 15 Thumb down 7

  23. Tom Haverford says:

    Regardless how you feel about consolidation. I can’t see how they can get any work done if they are both Fire/Police. Just the amount of training and certs/classes/drills for both; when do they actually patrol or work?

    Or it could be why they are not so highly regarded in the fire/police community. burning the candle from both ends…

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  24. Mr. J says:

    Best idea ever; they influence elections(usually so they can get more money) and spend more than half of the general fund, get rid of them and the ridiculous restrictions on college students which are a waste of cops’ time.

    Thumb up 15 Thumb down 16

  25. john bly says:

    I am not surprised that smaller municipalities look to get out from under the pension liability burden. I am not advocating for or against RP oursourcing police services to SoCo Sheriff-but I do think we all need to be looking at whether publicly funded programs are sustaianble now, or will be in the future. I think it is smart on the part of RP to ask the question about the police cost being outsourced.

    Thumb up 32 Thumb down 12

  26. Cool as Ice says:

    Maybe we should do what other countries do; have the military do fire and police services. That way we can save a huge amount of money. Instead of 13 police departments we have one. Instead of all these fire departments we have one. Think of the money that can be saved.

    Thumb up 13 Thumb down 29

  27. David Tierra says:

    @concerned1.

    I never wrote a police contract, but I have done some contract work. I would think that cities who do this put in the contract that the Sheriff that they contract with are responsible for all claims that have to do with police services (crashes from chases, shootings, ect) and hold the city harmless. I looked it up and there are a lot of cities in SoCal that do this with LASD and other Sheriff’s. They all seem to be the size of RP or smaller. Must be something in it. I’m not saying I’m for it but there must be something to it, so let’s see how much we can save and if it is significant I don’t see how we can’t.

    Thumb up 18 Thumb down 10

  28. Get Real says:

    If the police/fire is seriously concerned about their city they should offer to provide the same services at the cost the Sheriff’s office bids.

    Thumb up 29 Thumb down 11

  29. Change is needed says:

    The FACT is everyone in Sonoma County knows that some of these smaller agencies just don’t have the training and resources (or money) to run a proper criminal investigations agency. RPDPS not only plays police officer, they play fire fighter too. This department has been plagued with drama for years. Ask any detective or prosecutor in Sonoma County and you will find that the reputation of RPDPS is not well regarded. Many investigations are blundered and their cases are very hard to prosecute. Why do you think that RPDPS is not part of the mutual law enforcement investigations team when there is an officer-involved shooting? These agencies only consist of the Sheriff’s Dept, Santa Rosa PD, and Petaluma PD. RPDPS just doesn’t have the respect/trust/resouces to do a serious investigation as such.

    The fact is, we need to consider consolidating resources so the investigations are consistent and so our budgets are met. Finally we have a city manager that is looking at the facts and one who will make a business decision based upon the right course to take.

    The only reason you hear these employees complaining is because they are “comfortable” with their “take-home” police cars and being paid to play cop and fireman (public safety officers) and receive TOP pay. Also, they know that if the Sheriff’s Department consolidates these services, they would have to pass a background investigation and physical agility test.

    If you haven’t looked at some of these officers, you will notice that many won’t pass the physical agility test and I have no doubt that some won’t pass a background investigation.

    So there you have it folks – you can have it the way it is now, or get a new improved agency like Sonoma and Windsor and have better police services.

    Next we need to look at the other small agencies such as Cotati, Cloverdale, Healdsburg and other similar cities that are far to expensive to run on their own.

    Thumb up 39 Thumb down 18

  30. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    The fact that the entire police rank, from top to bottom, is so outraged is telling just how much of a cash-cow the residents, by way of taxes, are to the police department. Their biggest concern is probably the outrageous overtime they feed on might be reduced, or out the window.

    It’s only a request for information for a cost analysis at this point, nothing more. 54% of the cities budget? Does that include long-term retirement and health costs?

    As one person here noted: how many people know the first name of the police officers in your neighborhood, how many residents ever get even a ‘wave’ as they drive by? I’ve lived here 30 years and can say ‘never’. To most of them, it’s nothing more than a job, a paycheck and retirement, nothing more.

    Involved part of the community? Funny.

    Thumb up 27 Thumb down 21

  31. concerned1 says:

    What has happened in cities who do this?, how much did their insurance costs go up?

    Thumb up 9 Thumb down 13

  32. David Tierra says:

    Every time this comes up people always say the cops are a part of our town. Name the cop that patrols your street. 9 out of 10 can’t. As an RP resident I will tell you this, I won’t support more taxes for anything. RP wants to raise my sewer rates, they have closed three of our schools in the last 2 years, and our roads are crap. We have Costco, Target, Home Depot, Walmart, Target and any other chain store you can think of 10% sales tax on our purchases, money from a Tribe and the city has no money? Tell me Sgt. Utecht why we should continue to pay more? For newer cars for you to park in your driveway? Wish I could take my work car home. Give your dept 60% of the General Fund? Get the numbers, put it on a ballot if the savings are there let’s do it. Good on Gonzalez for at least checking in to it. At least he has a spine.

    Thumb up 47 Thumb down 18

  33. BigDogatlPlay says:

    The RPPSOA is in a very difficult bind… they have largely avoided real cost reductions while continuing to treat the city like it’s the PSOA’s to run, and not the citizens. Combine that with the notion that probably a significant percentage of the staff would not be hired by the sheriff’s office (the stink of corruption has long been pervasive at the PSD, after all), and the hand writing on the wall becomes clear.

    A new city manager with no real axe to grind and a budget that is bleeding red ink. Now the only question is who has more clout, the city manager or the PSOA.

    Thumb up 33 Thumb down 14

  34. @Get Real says:

    The RP police union did not initiate or ask for the Measure E sales tax. City Hall placed it on the ballot for the voters. The police union simply supported it. I think you’re stretching quite a bit Get Real.

    Thumb up 19 Thumb down 30

  35. bill says:

    There is little reason to let emotions play with numbers. Consolidation of many services in the County are long overdue. Duplication is an unnecessary burden for tax payers. Cops and fireman earn twice what the average tax payer does and these costs cut into education and other services.

    Thumb up 39 Thumb down 19

  36. NOTUTOO says:

    First, many of the RPDPS personnel would be rehired by the Sheriff’s Office as was the case in Sonoma. Second, the uniform would probably stay the same so the average citizen wouldn’t even know the difference. I think you’ll find that there are just as many deputies living in Rohnert Park as there are RPDPS members, maybe more. Look to Sonoma and Windsor, all indications are that they are very satisfied with the services the Sheriff’s Office provides.

    Thumb up 30 Thumb down 13

  37. Ian MacNair says:

    Tough times, tough choices. Contracting The SCSD is a valid option, one which cannot be overlooked. In my opinion this would benefit RP.
    In my personal interactions with the department, I have been very impressed with their actions. I cannot speak for Sheriff Steve Freitas, but I can tell you he is committed to improving our communities. And as for Sonoma, contracting out saved city resources and improved public safety. I encourage RP Public Safety Officers to be open minded, and consider all solutions to this issue.

    Thumb up 34 Thumb down 12

  38. Dan Delgado says:

    All the other bargaining units should take notice. Outsourcing or bankruptcy are the only options left CSS-strapped cities.

    Thumb up 38 Thumb down 11

  39. Check your facts! says:

    @Get Real

    Please make sure your facts are accurate.

    The police union has made significant cuts over the years for the betterment of the budget. Slashing retirement medical, paying medical premiums, and accepting pay cuts. They have never not been willing to cut costs.

    The police union wasn’t the cause of the “General public Tax increase” or Measure E. It was City Hall that wrote and wanted the tax. The police union supported it. But didn’t create or initiate a tax increase.

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  40. RP Resident says:

    So sad . . . . a local police and fire department (or public safety) is so much more to a community than numbers.

    And Mr. Callinan said is exactly. Once you destroy your local department you will never get them back.

    And I can’t even begin to think about all the families that will be devastated.

    So very sad that this is even being considered.

    Thumb up 20 Thumb down 53

  41. Get Real says:

    The police union had their chance to cut costs, but they decided to go for a General public Tax increase instead. Now the public has a right to cut cost anywhere they can to make a budget and the police/fire consume a large percent of it.

    Thumb up 44 Thumb down 23

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