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Sierra Madre Divided Over Possible Police Outsourcing

The possibility of outsourcing public safety services in Sierra Madre, notably police services, has sparked many viewpoints on the matter and highlighted a divide between residents and police officers alike.

On one side are residents who believe that their police officers do not appreciate their recent pay raises and generally have a negative attitude about working in Sierra Madre. They call for the police services to be outsourced, and save the city money and potentially receive better attitudes.

On the other side are the police employees, some of whom feel unappreciated, underpaid, and have to deal with residents’ minor requests instead of actual police work. They believe that Sierra Madre residents will be in for a nasty shock when they realize how little other police departments will tolerate in comparison to SMPD.

A central comment in both opinions relates to the salaries of the police department. Some say that SMPD already receives too much money from the city, while the others believe that SMPD remains one of the lowest paid departments despite help from their recent raise funded by the now-controversial Utility Users Tax increase passed last year.

An Example:

Westlake Village is another town located in L.A. County, with a population of 8,368 at the 2000 census and covers 5.66 square miles.

In comparison, Sierra Madre had a population of 10,580 at the time of the 2000 census, but only covers 3.01 square miles.

Westlake Village contracts out their police services to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, and expects their total costs for public safety to be $2,082,435 in the year 2009-2010. Contrast this figure with SMPD’s expected cost of $3.4 million for next year – that’s 54% of the Sierra Madre’s total expenditures – and a vision of potentially drastic cost reductions begins to become more clear.

It seems likely, admittedly without an actual professional study at hand, that contracting the police services will be cheaper than maintaining an independent department within the city. By how much, however, will not be determined until the other agencies respond, but will it be worth it?

According to the Sierra Madre Police Department, their average response time is less than 2 minutes. It might be hard to beat that, considering that other police departments will have other responsibilities in addition to patrolling Sierra Madre and responding to calls from its citizenry.

Yet, in 2008 there were no homicide, rapes, major robberies, or arson attempts in Sierra Madre. Rather, the crimes in Sierra Madre tend to be on a smaller scale, such as aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft.
One idea being discussed is, in the event of outsourcing, to keep the current police department’s location as an outpost for whichever agency is chosen, suiting the needs of residents while also minimizing costs.

It has also been suggested that the City hire security guards and have a fewer number of actual police officers.
More often than not, the Police Department receives calls from community members that do not pertain to a crime, but rather requests and complaints by residents.

These calls could instead be taken care of by the security guards. That way, police officers can focus on things that better fit their job description. When the security guard notices something amiss, a quick phone call could alert the actual cops.

Sierra Madre Mayor Mary Ann MacGillivray and Council Member Don Watts originally expressed interest in the possibility of contracting out public safety services as a cost saving measure.

By Morgan Carpenter

July 28, 2009

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