Palm Desert will be trimming about $3.4 million in police expenses through reduced hours, suspension of some positions including two motorcycle officers and the K9 unit – moves officials say will not jeopardize the community’s safety.
The city is bracing for a budget deficit of up to $15 million – a combined total for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 fiscal years – due to lost revenues attributed to the coronavirus pandemic, officials said.
At the same time, cities such as Palm Desert that contract with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement services are anticipating a 6% to 7% cost increase for fiscal year 2020-21, which starts July 1.
The rate increase is due to pension costs and salary increases the county is passing on to contract cities.
The La Quinta City Council on May 5 got a first look at its rising police costs – 7% to $17.5 million while also facing a near $3 million deficit due to coronavirus-related revenue losses. The city is weighing a reduction in patrol hours, suspension of one motorcycle position and other cost reductions.
Anticipating a 6% rate increase to $23.2 million for police services in 2020-21, Palm Desert’s Risk Manager Stephen Aryan began working with sheriff’s Capt. Joseph Belli and Lt. Mathew Martello on ways to cut costs without jeopardizing public safety.
On Thursday, Aryan presented a police budget proposal to the City Council which included cost modifications equaling about $3.4 million in savings:
- Reduction of daily patrol hours from 171.4 to 144: $2,003,388 savings
- Suspend 1 administrative sergeant position: $268,897 savings
- Suspend 2 of 6 motorcycle team officers: $720,897 savings
- Suspend the K9 officer position: $366,482 savings
- Suspend 1 of 4 business district team positions: $356,626 savings
- Suspend 1 school resource officer position: $158,456 savings
The city also will recruit three additional community service officers who can assist patrol officers by transporting prisoners and doing traffic and other reports that don’t require a sworn, armed deputy, Aryan said.
The addition of the three CSO II officers is estimated to cost $391,761 – nearly the equivalent of one patrol deputy, Aryan said.
It’s a move that the sheriff’s Research and Development unit supports.
“CSOs are a little more cost-effective solution for those non-sworn, non-armed situations,” he said, and will help balance the 16% reduction of patrol hours.
Several staffing modifications were approved over the past three years to mitigate rising public safety costs. The modifications have been regularly monitored for any impact on police services or crime increase, and none have been reported, Aryan said.
Councilmember Susan Marie Weber said that if a major incident were to occur in Palm Desert, the sheriff’s department will send in assistance from other areas.
“So, it’s not like … we have only so many officers, we have a contract that allows us to expand if we have a necessity for additional officers. That’s something I think we need to keep in mind when we vote for this,” Weber said.
In weighing whether to keep the K9 unit, Aryan said he, Martello and Belli reviewed statistics from May 2019 through April 2020 when there were 48 significant incidents and arrests involving the unit. Of those, Aryan said, seven occurred in Palm Desert.
“So, we feel that the Palm Desert police department can still utilize the county K9 team, we just won’t have a dedicated position,” Aryan said.
In unanimously voting in favor of the 2020-21 police budget, council members applauded Martello and Belli for helping the city find ways to trim costs without jeopardizing public safety.
“You are providing us with solutions. You understand the pressure that we’re under and you have helped us craft a way that addresses our fiscal emergency while at the same time preserving what is perhaps our highest priority, and that is public safety,” Councilmember Sabby Jonathan said.
Officials are hopeful the reductions are temporary, and once the economy recovers positions and services can be restored.
“I believe all of this represents a reasonable compromise,” Jonathan said.
The council has yet to see the rest of the 2020-21 budget plan.
Staff had a draft ready to present in March but, like other cities, had to start over due to anticipated revenue losses attributed to the pandemic.
The council will get its first look at the new budget in a study session at 1 p.m. Tuesday. The session will be live-streamed through the city’s website. A 2020-21 budget must be adopted by June 30, when the current fiscal year ends.
From The Desert Sun