The leaders of both the police department and fire department in Santa Monica are calling for additional personnel over the next few years to help their departments continue providing optimum service and better meet future demands.
Santa Monica Police Chief Tim Jackman and Fire Chief Jim Hone each presented a report to the City Council Tuesday, March 11th, that requests an increase in department personnel over the next five years. Staffing levels at both public safety departments have remained virtually unchanged over the past few years and in order for the departments to improve public safety and keep up with demands in the community, additional personnel is required, the chiefs told the council.
The fire department is requesting 22 additional firefighters, including 16 safety and six non-safety personnel over five years, while the police department is requesting 31 sworn police officers and 14 civilian positions.
The cost for the fire department’s increased staff is estimated at $3.3 million in ongoing funds, with a $300,000 one-time fund, while the police department’s cost is estimated at $4.9 million in ongoing funds with a $1.5 million one-time fund.
Hone said that when he joined the fire department in 1980, the department had 112 personnel and responded to more than 5,000 emergency incidents. The department is currently comprised of 114 personnel and is expected to respond to more than 12,000 emergency calls by the end of this year.
While five personnel have been added to the fire department over the past three years, the department has experienced a 72-percent increase in emergency calls during the past 13 years without an increase in fire suppression and rescue staffing, Hone said.
“I’m very proud of what this fire department accomplishes daily with the existing staffing and I know this council and community are also appreciative of their efforts,” Hone told the council.
The dedicated firefighters spend a tremendous amount of time both on-duty and off-duty to train themselves to effectively respond to emergency incidents, Hone said.
Jackman said police staffing levels have remained relatively flat over the last six years despite new regulations and a change in policing methods. The department’s expectations have changed over the years and staffing levels need to be increased to help police address key priorities such as traffic, homelessness and gang violence, Jackman said.
“The increased staffing levels will enable the police department to achieve the goals of the city’s five-year strategic plan and improve on the department’s existing high level of customer service,” Jackman noted.
Councilman Bob Holbrook pointed out that Santa Monica is “kind of unique” in that public safety agencies actually serve a lot more people than just residents, as the city is a popular tourist destination. Jackman added that the population can grow to about a quarter of a million people each day with tourists and visitors.
The 2000 Census showed Santa Monica with a population of about 84,000`.
The fire and police chiefs said they plan to work with the city to acquire personnel within budgetary demands. Jackman said the staffing increases are spread over time to mitigate the impact on the budget and police are asking to fill vacancies in “critical” areas first, such as in the community policing program and jailing positions.
“The police department recognizes the impact the increases may have on other departments and we will work to minimize those impacts,” Jackman said.
After hearing the fire chief’s report, Councilman Kevin McKeown said it was a “real wake-up call” to the council that additional staffing is needed.
“I think it’s remarkable what you’ve been able to accomplish to keep us where we are at this point,” McKeown told Hone.
McKeown also commended the police department’s efforts in protecting the community, particularly the community-oriented policing plan which assigns a neighborhood resource officer to eight different sections of the city.
Mayor Herb Katz agreed that the report has indicated the urgency for more public safety personnel.
“We shouldn’t have waited this long,” Katz said. “I hope we can get this staff as soon as possible.”
City manager Lamont Ewell said he will aim to present a budget in May that will reflect the staffing desires of the police and fire chiefs, but he added that the city’s resources are limited and officials need to be “cautious” when addressing the requests.
But Katz and Councilman Ken Genser said public safety issues need to be considered of the utmost importance.
“It has to be our highest priority,” Katz said. “If we don’t have a safe community, then we are really going to get hurt.”