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City Council Might Contract Out Public Safety Services

July 15th, 2009 by admin


Sierra Madre is considering contracting out “certain public safety services” – specifically Law Enforcement and Paramedic services.

Citing possible cost saving opportunities, Mayor MacGillivray and Council Member Don Watts previously requested inquiries to be sent to Arcadia, Pasadena, and the County of Los Angeles about “consolidating services, contracting services, or contracting specific operations within a department, specifically in the areas of Public Safety.”

Sierra Madre City Manager Elaine Aguilar said that this request is “really the first step in the process” of contracting out services.

The City Council authorized a formal request to Arcadia, Pasadena, and LA County on Tuesday July 14 at the City Council meeting.

Although the City Council originally had no intention to request quotes from other agencies regarding the possibility of contracting out the fire safety services, Sierra Madre Fire Chief Stephen Heydorff requested that the fire department be included in the request, for the liberty of being able to “selectively choose particular contracted services that would benefit [Sierra Madre]”.

A formal request, which consists of sending a letter to the agency expressing interest, allows Sierra Madre to determine the other agency’s interest in contracting with Sierra Madre, and to discuss which options are available.

It is hard to determine how much the Sierra Madre could save by contracting out its public safety services. By contacting the other agencies, proposals and studies can begin to determine the cost and potential savings.

A common concern among residents is their ability to conduct business 24/7 in the Sierra Madre Police Department station, located at 242 W. Sierra Madre Blvd.

The Sierra Madre Police Department’s total budget in 2008 was $2,635,398, the largest expenditure of the City’s general fund. There are approximately 24 full-time members of the Police Department.

File Photos by Terry Miller

5 Responses to City Council Might Contract Out Public Safety Services

  1. Jeff Doney Reply

    July 24, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    After reading the comments in this week’s Weekly, it’s obvious nobody is looking at the long-term scenario we are creating for ourselves in Sierra Madre! Residing here for 33 years we always seem to accept ‘temporary fixes’ to maintain the status quo but we really haven’t grown or expanded the quality of life in our wonderful, usually quiet, village in the foothills.

    Being realistic, without a substantial tax base like our neighboring cities (big box stores, car dealerships, shopping centers, etc.) and knowing funds from the State will continue to be reduced – how do we justify spending more money every year?

    Stop blaming the police department, IMHO they do a better than average job in our community! But outsourcing their services is just a band-aid for ‘this year’s problem’ as far as the budget is concerned. The City just cannot afford 54% of the Budget for police services, but more importantly, nor will we be able to continue funding the ongoing cost of retirement benefits.

    What we really need to do is STOP spending money we don’t have, and acknowledge that the pot isn’t going to get any bigger in the future! Increasing the utility tax to 12% and raising the water rates, is akin to taking a knife into a gun fight. Doesn’t anyone look further down the road than the expiration of their current term in office?

    What percentage of the budget are we spending for the ever expanding city staff? Not just this year or next, but account for future turnover & retirement benefits over the next 10, 15 or 20 years. Whatever is left is all we will have available to maintain and improve the streets, utility systems, library, senior and child services or any emergencies. We don’t have the ability to print money like they do in Washington.

    Maybe the time has come for us to consider a much tougher decision – Ask the City of Arcadia to annex Sierra Madre completely! It’s definitely not my first choice, but it may become inevitable, and the thought of becoming part of Pasadena is much scarier.

  2. C CISM (Concerned Citizen in Sierra Madre) Reply

    July 20, 2009 at 11:17 am

    From a cost versus benefit perspective, contracting for police, fire and paramedic protection services makes the most sense. This comment concerns the police department.

    According to last week’s article in the Pasadena Star News, the 11,000 residents (give or take) of Sierra Madre will pay $3.4 million to the Police Department in 2009-10 (52 percent of the $6.4 million in general fund expenditures). That article also indicated that for 20,000 residents, La Canada Flintridge spent only $2.4 million on its contract with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department last year (21 percent of the city’s $11.4million general fund). It also indicated that Westlake Village (population 8,000, spent $1.8 million for a contract for police services with the Sheriff’s Dept.)

    Those populations and numbers should be a wake up call to Sierra Madre. We’re paying more for police services than La Canada and they have almost twice as many people. We’re paying over three times as much for police then Westlake Village with only three thousand less people in their city.

    Can we afford such an extravagant difference in cost? I don’t think so. Those figures don’t take into consideration the retirement obligations we are incurring to 24employees of the police department. Our city has still not addressed how to meet the true economic burden of those future obligations.

    Sierra Madreans don’t like change very much. We don’t want anything to change from our small village feel, but is that realistic? This decision is in large part the difference between having our infrastructure, streets and sidewalks repaired properly, having money to meet ongoing emergency needs such as the recent fire, having money for the library, money for services for our children and seniors. So if we’re giving a lot of that up to pay over twice as much for policing than a community twice our size pays, we should be getting top of the line policing services. Our officers should be active in the community. The department should be a true asset to the city.

    Doing a cost benefit analysis, what are we currently getting for our money? Are we getting a top notch police department that is a vital and integral part of the community? The type of police department that is visible enough that crooks know they are on the job protecting your home and car from burglaries?

    I have been burglarized in Sierra Madre. Crime happens here, and it made me think about just how often I see the police in my part of town. The answer is not very much. To be clear I don’t blame the police for my break in, but I don’t think we should be thinking our home town police department provides a level of service that is a current deterrent. Home security systems deter property crimes not the police.

    My dealings with our police department have been good ones. I thought the officers were well meaning and courteous although I later discovered the object the burglars used to break in was in my back yard. The officers hadn’t bagged it up as evidence. Did the local police department catch my burglars? No, but another police department nearby did.

    Over the years, I’ve notice our officers (and maybe it is only a few of them) have a malaise, poor morale or “felony bad attitude” about working in Sierra Madre. Before the pay raise, the bad morale was about being low paid with no raises. But what has changed since the raise? The department still considers the pay we provide very low in comparison with the rest of the County. The department still seems to resent the level of pay the citizens have provided. Let me repeat that, we’re paying over half our general funds expenditures to the police department and they still consider themselves low paid, they still have poor morale and are dissatisfied with the town and with their employment in our town.

    So ask yourselves: what kind of policing do we need and what kind of policing do we currently have. If you look at the comment above by the local law enforcement employee, it appears our police are responding mostly to calls that at least this particular police person feels are silly. Calls he indicates that many other departments don’t choose to answer. If that’s the case, it seems like a lot of calls in Sierra Madre could be serviced in a far less expensive way. For instance, we could save money by hiring one or two full time staff to handle these situations (additional code enforcement or a neighborhood nuisance resolution mediator) and contract out policing services. Other communities have found a way to handle these matters and so can we.

    Are we paying substantially more for our policing services simply because we want to be a Mayberry kind of town? If so, has paying through the nose for our policing services achieved that goal? Does the police department and residents have a successful working relationship?

    Well the police have sued the city, hired a law firm that has bragged about the successful maneuvering of Sierra Madre into a police raise it really can’t afford. The comment of the law enforcement employee above seems pretty clear that the police not only resent the residents, but think them petty, stupid and selfish. So, I don’t think the current structure in our city is successful.

    Could it be successful in the future, could morale improve? I have to say no to that one. Again, we’re paying over half our general fund expenditure budget to the police and it is still not enough money to make them happy. The relationship is still dysfunctional. It appears it would take a lot more of our budget to produce good morale. But perhaps even spending 75% of our budget on the police would not be enough for that because it appears that our police structure lends itself to underutilizing our department personnel on matters that they feel are beneath their level of training.

    So given all the above, are we not smarter to make a change? Couldn’t we do more with this money by rethinking the structure of our policing? If we focused the money differently into a combination of contract police services and a few community enforcement officers to deal with parking, skateboarders, and rose bushes wouldn’t we be better off?

    As a community, we need to make sure any contract policing has good response times. We need to ensure that the service is professional and well equipped. In that regard we would gain by a contract service as the far better resources available to a larger police department would be at our disposal. Also, we would gain the ability to review the level of service provided at regular intervals. If we didn’t like it, we could change it by contracting with another department. And we wouldn’t have any messy long term retirement obligations when we changed.

    With the local police department, the effort over the past few years has changed nothing. We don’t’ seem to be able to change the current situation in any significant way.

    Don’t we have to be fiscally responsible and really look at what value we are getting for this money? So we should all look at the situation and ask: is the level and quality of professional services from this police department worth the money we pay for them given the money paid in other communities for the same thing?

  3. Llee (Local law enforcement employee) Reply

    July 18, 2009 at 11:46 am

    I’ve worked in the law enforcement community in the Sierra Madre/Pasadena area for 15 years. I’m quite familiar with how not only these two departments do business, but also how the Temple LASD conducts business.

    The citizens of Sierra Madre are screaming at the top of their lungs to contract out police services because they don’t feel their police officers are as ‘friendly’ as they should be and because their police department is so darned expensive. They are outraged that police officers received a raise this year because their officers rarely have to handle ‘major’ or ‘life threatening’ incidents. I’ve seen posts that rant about officers being petty by enforcing the city codes like those prohibiting spraying down sidewalks or having garage sales without permits.

    I would like to offer these Sierra Madre residents some reality.
    If you contract with LASD or Pasadena PD you will not get a response for the things you are acustomed to. The things that SM residents call the SMPD about amazes me. A big agency will chuckle and hang up when you call to complain about:

    1) A homeless person walking down Baldwin that looks nasty and smelly and looked at you ‘funny’.
    2) An injured squirrel that OBVIOUSLY needs medical care
    3) A bear is in your trash can. (You live in the mountains people… bears live in the mountains too! They won’t come into your house and kill you in your bed. They were here first. Get over it or move into the city.)
    4) Your neighbor is inadvertantly trimming your rose bushes when they trim their own
    5) Your neighbor is parking their car in front of your house instead of their own house
    6) Kids are skateboarding around the businesses making people uncomfortable

    SMPD does not make up city ordinances yet they are FORCED to enforce them though. This includes water conservation rules, garage sale permits and sign limitations, leaf blowers, etc. You call officers petty for enforcing them, yet they are obligated to do so. They are enforcers of city, county, state and federal laws. YOUR elected city officials made up these ordinances so you need to re-direct your attention to where it should be. Do you think the police enjoy dealing with these petty calls? Absolutely not.

    Your officers are not ‘cash cows’ of city funds. They are some of the lowest paid, if not THE lowest paid in the entire San Gabriel area. If you want officers to treat SMPD and your city as more than a door mat they use to get their foot into the law enforcement door, then pay them fairly and treat them with respect. Their equipment is substandard compared to other agencies because they do penny-pinch whether you know it or not. If you want officers to act professionally, then give them a decent wage. If you do not, don’t expect them to stick around long enough to really care about your city and your problems. The citizens overwhelmingly ooze a disrespectful attitude towards police employees. I for one could not tolerate serving people like those that live in this city. High maintenance residents and business owners forcing officers to be at their beck and call is worth much more than what they’re paid. Officers are required to swallow their pride, and be YES-men and women and basically do whatever the residents want. What six digit figure would SM residents demand in pay to roll over and put up with the BS like the SMPD employees have to?

    The grass is always greener for certain people and these people live in Sierra Madre. LASD does not take collision reports. They contract with CHP. You should research how many calls CHP is responsible for each day. If you get into an accident, you will wait for hours instead of 5 minutes like you currently do with SMPD. When you contract out, the squeeky wheel gets the grease. Sierra Madre basically has no crime and only ‘quality of life issues’. Do you think LASD or PPD care about your ‘poor quality of life?’ It will be laughable as you will be compared to other “customers” that live in high crime areas and in poverty. You will not get regular patrols because manpower and resources will be directed where the crime is (ie.. not Sierra Madre). Police responses will be slow, if at all. Pasadena PD does not respond to animal calls, period. Animal bite or loose vicious dog? You will be transferred to animal control. Again, you will wait for a response, unlike now where SMPD is on your porch in 5 minutes. Parking complaint? Pasadena PD does not respond. The public works department contracts with a private company who enforces parking. You again will be transferred and you will wait. No cop responds.

    If Sierra Madre residents have to call another agency like Pasadena, LASD or Arcadia for police service, you will sometimes be told ‘no’ because in real life there are a lot of things that ‘normal’ police officers are not required to respond to. BE PREPARED TO BE DENIED SERVICES FOR THINGS THAT ARE NOT OF A CRIMINAL NATURE. I personally do not think SM residents could cope with hearing no. My advice is that you be careful what you wish for Sierra Madre because NO OTHER AGENCY will put up with the crap that you currently dish out to your police, guaranteed.

    • Edward Reply

      July 21, 2009 at 9:44 pm

      I don’t live in your city, so I will not comment on whether or not your city should contract with another agency for police services. However, I will comment about the above statement because there are several inaccuracies. The Sheriff’s Department provides police services for 40 of the 88 incorporated cities in the county. These cities range in size from small cities, like Bradbury, La Canada Flintridge, and Malibu to large cities like Carson, Norwalk, and Santa Clarita. They cater to the needs of each of their contract cities and respond to the same kind of calls that your current city police do. Calls such as barking dogs, illegal parking, operating a yard sale without a license, kids skateboarding in front of businesses, and any call that a citizen requests an officer to respond to. The Sheriff’s Department also responds to all traffic accidents and take traffic accident reports for all their contract cities. I wish you and your city the best in making this difficult decision.

  4. Maria Calderon Reply

    July 17, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    I’d like to see that happen. For the affluent area Sierra Madre is, it is such a selfish, self righteous and stingy community. I really hope the city contracts out because the residents currently get treated by the P.D. very politely while other agencies are NOT very customer service oriented. Currenlty being the lowest paid and most over worked officers, the city would be doing the officers a favor by contracting out. At this point the officers would have a chance at real pay. The residents of the city of Sierra Madre DO NOT deserve their own P.D. They deserve the sometimes real and harsh treatment other P.D’s provide.

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