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Monday, November 5, 2012

         Cop bucks  

We’ll revisit the issue of police pay vs. police value today, in spite of the fact that a concrete answer is impossible. But we citizens control the checkbook so we have to make a “guesstimate.”

First, what is the value of a cop’s service to a citizen of Costa Mesa?

Police are sworn to run to, not from, an emergency that may threaten their life – or ours. How much is that worth? Not much if you don’t end up in a life-threatening crisis. Value beyond measure if you are.

Hold back the barbarians

Cops form the bulwark that protects the rest of us from criminals, violent and larcenous. They’re pretty good at it but not perfect. We citizens have to make some effort to protect ourselves, too. And we have to pay our cops for serving and protecting us.

CMPD cops are effective; the “white supremacist” gangs were rampant in Costa Mesa, but their influence has diminished to minimal. This was a matter of good police work, not governmental actions. They didn't need a draconian ordinance that would have eroded citizens’ rights.

The cops enforced the laws already on the books to force miscreants to comply or to leave Costa Mesa. They protected the City through hard, persistent police work.  Our PD has a record of excellent and effective – and efficient police work.

Most PD’s have experienced a decrease in sworn officer strength during the downturn; CMPD has adjusted schedules, hired non-sworn personnel, and just worked smarter to continue to serve and protect Costa Mesa. Our cops are efficient.

Lives on the line daily

Their lives are still on the line every shift – and, considering gang threats, every day whether they are on duty or not. They still run toward the danger in order to serve and protect the citizens of Costa Mesa.

So, we have some great, professional street cops, who do a very good job. And it appears that we have a chief worthy of them and worthy of trust from Costa Mesa citizens. Are they all “good guys?” Of course not. Out of 130+ sworn officers there’s likely to be some bad apples.

Bad apples different here and in Chicago

But what makes a bad apple in CMPD? We have little to none of the PD graft or corruption seen in other cities. In some cases we think misdirection makes some cops look like bad apples. That brings us to police unions, or associations, as they prefer to be called. A bit of background for full disclosure:

Organized labor is the reason coal miners have livable wages and healthcare. My grandparents survived because the unions demonstrated, thumped heads, and made change happen, in the early 1900’s. Unions are the reason my father had a job that gave him pride and a decent living – and a reasonable retirement. The Teamsters’ union demonstrated and threatened – and thumped a lot of heads -- in the 1930’s and 40’s to make his job worth having – and his kids’ lives better than average.

By the late 1900’s, though, union intimidation, threats, and violence had become ineffective and often counterproductive, except as a temporary expedient.  Negotiation toward shared goals, PR, and education started prevailing in labor strife, whether in mines or on 18-wheelers.

Cops serving and protecting -- whom

CM PD’s association encouraged some unethical behavior, and their law-office advisers advocated a highly-adversarial, out-of-date approach to dealing with the City Council – their bosses – and with the citizens who paid them to be cops. Some cops may have been misled into thinking they are on duty to serve and protect their association instead of Costa Mesa citizens.

The association prevailed for a while. But the Council’s new majority – Mensinger, Monahan, Bever, and Righeimer, stood up to the association, in spite of personal – and often illegal attacks on them. That’s not to say the Council Members acted like knights coming to save the citizens. They were more like a kid who stands up to schoolyard bullies; confrontational, determined, and often loud and brazen.

How much should we pay them

Soon we Costa Mesa voters are going to determine how much a cop is worth to us. It’s hard not to discount all cops because of the outdated and ineffective tactics of a few. But it’s not useful, nor fair, to punish most of the force for the behaviors of a few misguided cops. Perhaps we’d be better off if those few left CMPD.

Fortunately, the city has a lot of qualified applicants anxious to replace them. We suspect that the quality of the department is as big a draw for most of them as is the generous pay and benefit package they’ll receive. That doesn't mean we’re paying them enough, already. Nor that we aren't.

Like homeowners, citizens of Costa Mesa have to balance their expenditures to their income. We have a long-term liability that we have no means to pay at this time. But pay it we must. We can slow, or stop the growth of that debt by changing the benefit schedules for new hires. (Our agreements with the existing officers are promises, so current officers will enjoy their contracted pay and benefits.)

Prioritize expenses and divide resources

So, how much can we afford to pay cops? How much do we need to spend maintaining and upgrading Costa Mesa to attract productive families and give them the schools, and parks, and youth sports, and libraries – and cops -- that they deserve? How are we going to retire the long-term liability?

Select our representatives and give them the tools

During this election we’ll choose the people to represent us in making these decisions. We know the plans of the “3M’s” because they've published them. They want the Charter as a tool to help them.

Their opponents are in the first three slots on the ballot. They have no concrete plans; their program is opposition (to just about everything).

Need a slogan to remember in the voting booth? “3Ms and V, just skip the first three” will work.

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