Council Budget Discussions Focus on Police

Published : Thursday, May 9, 2019 | 5:32 AM

[Publisher’s note: This article takes a fresh look at the Police Department budget discussion during the City Council meeting of May 6, 2019. Our previous article may have created the impression there will be an emphasis on replacing some officers with trained civilians, which is not correct.]


In budget hearing discussions before the Pasadena City Council last Monday night, Pasadena Chief of Police John Perez described changes underway which could restructure how his department operates.

The hearing was one of a series of similar dialogues unfolding as the Council examines the City’s draft fiscal year 2020 $872.5 million budget proposed by City Manager Steve Mermell.

The budget will be finalized and adopted in mid-June.

Perez’s responses to questions and statements from Councilmembers described a bottom-up Departmental review which could potentially change the balance between different divisions and combine work groups, and which has already resulted in more training of both officers and civilian employees.

Councilmember Margaret McAustin praised Perez’s new approach, telling him, “You are re-prioritizing the department to be more responsive to the community. This is so different than before. I salute you for that.”

The restructuring, Perez said later, is intended to “redesign and change the organization to fit today’s challenges.”

Those challenges — among which Councilmembers focused on park safety, the homeless and traffic enforcement — have to be faced on a budget only 4.1% higher than last year’s, with the increase going towards maintaining, not expanding, service levels.

The Police Department’s $88 million budget does not currently include funding to increase the number of officers beyond the current level.

But voters who approved the Measure I sales tax last November, said Councilmember Steve Madison, expected to see more boots on the ground.

“We went the voters with a sales tax and public safety was a big part of the pitch,” Madison said.

City Manager Steve Mermell responded that Measure I was designed to maintain essential services and “that’s what this [proposed] budget does.”

The Council scrutiny largely revolved around efforts by the Department to find, train, keep and pay for police officers who are “the best at what they do” and who focus on keeping parks safe, manage the homeless situation, and enforce traffic safety.

Councilmember John Kennedy emphasized the importance of park safety, particularly in Washington Park, in response to what he described as a recent increase in the number of complaints by residents.

Said Kennedy, “We have to make sure that families and children feel safe in our parks, and we must address that situation immediately.”

He also spoke in favor of the civilianization process by which highly-trained police are freed up from duties which can be effectively performed by trained civilians.

Councilmember Victor Gordo also asked for more Park Safety Specialists to be hired, emphasizing the importance of park safety, particularly in Washington Park.

As Gordo told the council, “The most important role of the City and the police department is public safety, beginning with the places where we live and congregate—our neighborhoods and our parks, and additional park safety specialists are needed to protect our children and families there.”

Madison told Perez, “The budget has the right priorities. Gangs and violence have to be a high priority,” adding, “We want to see a police presence in the city.”

“We will vote with our pocketbook,” Madison concluded. “We need to fund our police department as well as we can.”

Perez told the Council that the City could see the first steps in the restructuring of the Department in September or October with the presence of more bike teams to handle “quality of life issues.”