The Long Beach Police Department will host another academy this year as funding increases have allowed for more officers to be hired. Photo: Stephanie Rivera
In the first of what will be multiple departmental budget hearings before the Long Beach City Council adopts a budget for the 2018 fiscal year, the police and fire departments explored their proposed budgets during Tuesday night’s meeting with both pointing to Measure A as a vital source of funds that have helped them expand.
The recently passed sales-tax increase has given both departments millions in additional funding to invest in academies and equipment. The Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) has hired over 160 recruits since the 2016 fiscal year, restored its South Division and is preparing for a fourth back-to-back police academy in the coming year. The Long Beach Fire Department (LBFD) has restored services in Belmont Shore and North Long Beach.
LBPD Chief Robert Luna was blunt in his assessment of how the half-cent sales tax increase has affected the department.
“These funds have sustained police department resources that otherwise would’ve been eliminated from our operation,” Luna said.
The LBPD will add 40 new personnel positions since the last adopted budget including 28 sworn officers and civilian positions by virtue of a contract with Metro to police the Blue Line.
Luna said the increased funding has coincided with a drop in crime (down 5.4 percent overall) and response times to Category-One calls—the most urgent of the department’s classifications—falling below their goal of five minutes. Overall, the department’s budget is about 9.5 percent greater than last year’s.
LBFD Chief Mike Duree said that the highlight of the past fiscal year was the restoration of Engine 8 (Belmont Shore) and Rescue 12 (North) with the latter contributing to a 30-second decrease citywide in calls for service. The North had lacked its own rescue vehicle for years and had contributed to prolonged response times previous to last year. Response times in the North were cut by three minutes.
“It’s just unheard of to think about that we’ve had response times for that long,” said Vice Mayor Rex Richardson who represents the city’s most northern district and successfully advocated for the restoration of Rescue 12.
“Eight minute response times, if you imagine a cardiac arrest, a heart attack, a major advanced life support emergency, the fact that folks had to wait that long and we’re finally addressing that with shaving three minutes off. That’s something the entire city council and everyone that supported Measure A, that’s something they should all be proud of.”
However, both department heads faced some criticism in the structure of their proposed budgets with the focus for Luna being on the lack of funding for body cameras and increased training surrounding bias and procedural justice, and Duree facing questions of how the department might expand its HEART (Homeless Education and Response Team).
Luna said that while the department is wrapping up its own pilot program for officer body cameras, the expense of implementing the program department-wide was one that hadn’t been accounted for in the budget because the costs are too high.
Several council members pressed for a solution to be found. Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price, who serves as a deputy district attorney in Orange County, said that departments who do not have body camera programs are increasingly in the minority and with Long Beach serving as a trendsetter for the region, it needed to find a way to incorporate it, too.
“I think it speaks to the credibility of the agency in regard to adopting trends and standards,” Price said. “I understand the fiscal challenges but I also think we need to do a very good job of educating the [council] body on what the best standard of practice is in the industry right now and being able to articulate, if we can’t secure the funding, why that isn’t going to set us back in terms of using the latest resources and tools.”
When Luna cited cost as a reason why the department hadn’t invested in implicit bias and other racially sensitive training methods, methods that have cropped up in the wake of a string of high-profile officer-involved incidents that have occurred nationwide, Eighth District Councilman Al Austin asked whether investing in those methods could help counter other costs incurred by the department when something goes wrong, possibly because an officer lacked that training.
“I will say that policing is changing dramatically,” Austin said. “The profession, the practices, the management, the administration is changing so we have to be flexible and recognize that balance as well.”
Several council members asked about the fire department’s HEART team,—a two-man team of firefighter-paramedics that respond to homeless issues so regular fire apparatuses can respond to other emergencies—and how they could get more frequent appearances in their parts of the city.
Duree explained that this year’s budget provides for the HEART team to be structurally funded rather than under the status of a pilot program, but the $350,000 price tag for the team will limit the department’s ability to expand its presence to all three fire battalions throughout the city.
“They target certain areas where we know people who are homeless congregate or where we’re directed to,” Duree said. “It’s not uncommon for the HEART team to get a tip from a resident, the majority of their work tends to be where people who are experiencing homelessness congregate. They’re not specifically directed to be in one geographic location or another, and as you well know, people who are experiencing homelessness in the city of Long Beach are all over the city.”
Together the departments make up about 70 percent of the city’s general fund with the LBPD ($241.8 million) and LBFD ($116.9 million) accounting for about about $360 million in total proposed budgeting for the next fiscal year. The city council will host four more budget hearings with its deadline to adopt this coming year’s budget before September 12.