Sunday, January 29, 2012

201-201-29 "Why a public safety committee makes sense" by Marti Brown of the Vallejo City Council
Published by "Vallejo Times Herald"

On the day of Officer Capoot's memorial service, local public safety jurisdictions covered the streets so that Vallejo police officers could attend the service. Essentially, they ran the city's police department for a day.
I was stunned to learn that these participating jurisdictions determined that the city needed approximately 18 police officers on duty per shift in order to cover the work load. That's three times more officers than ordinarily work an average day shift. I was reminded once again that our highly skilled and experienced police officers and firefighters are in the trenches every day performing triage with few resources. They provide a tremendous service to our community under extreme duress and very demanding circumstances. I'm grateful for their service and can only imagine the daily challenges that they face.
Given these conditions and the city's lack of funding to hire more officers and firefighters, what can we do as a community to improve the city's most obvious and immediate crisis -- public safety? We can ask members of the public to volunteer and assist in researching and evaluating innovative tools, more efficiencies and effective means to ensure the city's public safety employees are protected on the streets and the citizens of Vallejo receive the high quality public safety they deserve. We can accomplish these objectives by establishing a public safety committee or commission. And on Dec. 13 of last year, Councilmember Gomes and I proposed just that.
The goal of this citizen committee is to openly and transparently examine all aspects of public safety -- including but not limited to researching, assessing and potentially instituting best practices in public safety with very limited funds and personnel (e.g., the Task Force on Prostitution); evaluating opportunities for interagency collaboration and sharing services across jurisdictions; revisiting current and future trends in public employee salaries and benefits; and considering the need for community participation in setting public safety policies, practices and standards.
While some of these issues are being investigated internally, it is important to discuss, vet and analyze these matters in a public forum and through an iterative process so that our entire community will know and understand what we can and cannot afford with our finances, staffing levels and other resources. I would like to hire more police officers and firefighters. But we just don't have the funds to pay for it. Researching and evaluating how to improve the city's public safety with its limited financial capacity both for the short and long term is our best immediate strategy. And a Public Safety Committee will help achieve these objectives.
Contrary to the heated public discussion this past month, it is standard practice for policy makers to establish a public safety advisory board or commission that makes policy recommendations to city councils on a variety of public safety matters. In fact, the cities of West Hollywood, Cupertino, Calabasas, Malibu, Dessert Hot Springs and Solana Beach -- to name a few -- have established Public Safety Commissions. This proposal is consistent with other cities and their efforts to provide high quality public safety to their citizens.
More than one recent Times-Herald letter to the Times-Herald implied that its city staff who should evaluate and recommend public policy. The source of policy recommendations are frequently championed by a variety of sponsors including city staff, the public, nonprofit organizations, other public agencies AND elected officials. After all, council members are policy makers. So, it would stand to reason that they would also initiate new policy and not just react to any and all agenda items that come across the dais.
While on the surface it may seem as though there is no attempt being made to increase revenue, city staff has been working very hard to improve our economic development efforts. Several letter writers to the Times-Herald have mentioned the fact that we do not have a Walmart and/or Trader Joe's. Walmart stopped pursuing its Vallejo location due to the economy. And Trader Joe's has been approached multiple times by city staff and elected officials but they are not interested in locating in Vallejo at this time. There are only two staff in the city's Economic Development Department and almost no money to implement standard business attraction and retention strategies. In the meantime, city staff and the council are doing everything they can to increase revenue and attract new businesses while retaining existing ones.
Like many of you, I'm frustrated and want to figure out how we can do more with less. And I want to do it openly and transparently. The proposed Public Safety Committee is a much needed first step in that direction by dealing with our public safety challenges head on and seeking innovative solutions that we CAN afford.

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