With staff levels shrinking, the Huntington Beach Police Department is considering the transfer of 12 officers to uniform patrol from various other duties, which would affect investigations of domestic violence and traffic accidents and reduce the number of officers on downtown foot patrol, Police Chief Ken Small told the City Council at study session last week.
The changes also mean that police will fall further behind a “huge backlog” of domestic violence cases and stop responding to most non-injury traffic accidents, Small said.
”Those are not things we want to do. Those are things that we have to do in today’s environment,” said Small, adding that the department is “drastically understaffed.”
The plan is months away from going into effect and will likely be changed before then, said Councilman Matthew Harper. “We’re looking at ongoing management and budget decisions over time,” he said.
During his presentation, the police chief emphasized his view that the department is understaffed.
If Huntington Beach had the same number of police officers per resident as the average among the other Orange County beach cities, Small said, it would have 144 more officers than its current 206-member force.
Among the proposed changes, “minimum staffing” — the lowest number of officers on patrol across the city at any given time — would be reduced from 10 to eight. To adjust for the lower staffing levels, Small also proposed reorganizing the current 12 patrol areas or beats into eight zones.
Additionally, one of the 10 detectives who investigate crimes against people, as opposed to financial crimes, would be transferred to uniformed patrol.
Council members seemed generally supportive of the plan, but Councilman Joe Carchio said elimination of officers at the outdoor shopping center "won’t sit very well with the businesses there.”
Mayor Don Hansen said that the department should look at “alternative delivery methods” for tasks that don’t require sworn officers, though he didn’t elaborate.
As it stands now, the plan would move two detectives, one training officer, two Bella Terra shopping mall officers, one background investigator, four downtown foot patrol officers and two accident investigators to uniform patrol.
While the police chief acknowledged the plan may have its detractors, he said the changes are necessary.
“I don’t think it’s going to be popular with a lot of people,” said Small, “but it’s really something that we have to do in order to plan for the future and deal with our staffing levels today.”