By Jane Northrop, San Jose Mercury News
Original publication date: June 28, 2011
Pacifica, Calif. — City Council unanimously approved on Monday an agreement with the city of South San Francisco to handle all communication services for the Pacifica police department.
It was another step among many City Council took to trim personnel and city services in every department to pass this year’s budget.
With the approval of this agreement, the cuts to the police department total $634,319. But the city will still have to pay South San Francisco to provide the services. That will cost $600,00 this year, $612,000 next year and $624,240 the year after that. The Pacifica communications center costs the city $1.1 million. After some other ongoing salaries that are charged to the department and some overhead costs, the annual savings will be about $300,000.
The city will lay off five dispatchers and one dispatch supervisor. The effective date of their lay off has been tentatively set for Aug. 1 as they will be needed to run the communications division until the transition is complete. The transition includes technical and logistical changes associated with connectivity of police radios and phones, along with computer systems and employing different business practices. Once that transition is complete, Pacifica police will close its communication division.
South San Francisco will hire four additional dispatchers to handle the work.
“Our dispatchers may apply for those positions or apply elsewhere, but we cannot guarantee anything. There are a lot of applicants,” said Dave Bertini, Pacifica police department’s captain of administrative services.
South San Francisco will answer all 911 emergency calls along with non-911 emergency lines and will dispatch police, fire and medics via radio to units in the field. Pacifica police and fire will still respond to the calls for officers or paramedics.
“When you call for an emergency, you will have to be very clear about where you are. They may not know the local geographical terms,” Bertini said.
The Pacifica police department building will be open only during normal business hours, which are Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Wednesday from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. The police station building will be locked at all other times. The community use room will not be available for public meetings once the building is closed. After hours and on weekends, calls to the business line will be forwarded to the South San Francisco dispatch center, and many business requests will need to be called in on regular business hours. After hours, visitors to the front door will be met with a phone that connects by intercom to the South San Francisco dispatch center.
Police reports must be picked up during normal business hours. If a car is towed, a vehicle release can only be picked up at the Pacifica Police Department during regular business hours. If a vehicle release is needed after hours or on weekends, a person will have to go to the South San Francisco Police Department located at 33 Arroyo Drive in South San Francisco. Ticket sign-offs must be done during normal business hours. Reporting abandoned vehicles must be done online or called in to a recorded message operation.
Bertini explained the challenges to the reorganization of the department.
“Part of the reorganization is that a lot of the work is going to be brought down to the records division. South San Francisco dispatch will still be responsible for a lot of the work, such as making computer entries into the criminal justice records system. We will have a procedure in place to communicate with them. We have eliminated a records clerks position. We have only two people in the front office during business hours. It might take a little longer to be helped. They are going to have more to do. We cut the one and only administrative assistant down to part time,” he said.
Because a police captain position was also eliminated, other requests may also be delayed.
“We did not want to cut police officers on the street. The only problem is that we are extremely short handed because we had been frozen at 36 positions. We lost two officers to other agencies. We have a retirement coming up and we have two officers out on medical issues. We are at minimum staffing. It’s taking some time to hire the funded positions,” he said.
Bertini said these changes are difficult at best.
“As a 24-year law enforcement professional, these changes are disturbing to me, but we didn’t have much choice, We know that we will be able to receive professional work from the South San Francisco dispatch center. But delays will be inevitable. There will be a lot of things that will have to be worked out as they come up. As a resident I am also somewhat concerned that we are losing control of our own communications center. These are folks who know the city. They know the way things work here. It’s difficult to lose that collective knowledge. I don’t think a lot of people realize the consequences of these changes. We will continue to strive to be the best police department there is. As an organization we will continue to deliver the service we are known for,” he said.
Answering a question from a council member, Bertini said roughly a dozen people, more on weekend nights, have been walking into the police station after normal business hours. Some simply want to conduct business after they get off work, but others have said they feel they are in danger.
At the council meeting, all the council members thanked the police department for making the budget cuts and for trying to make the best possible deal with a neighboring agency for communication services. Councilmember Sue Digre was absent. They all expressed their sadness about the current budget crisis that led to these cuts.
“This is a testament to what every California city is going through,” said Councilmember Jim Vreeland. “We are losing a tremendous resource.”
“This is about people’s lives. This is about people I like,” said Mayor Mary Ann Nihart.
Councilmember Len Stone said, “We need to do what we can to raise our revenue so we can provide more services.”
Mayor Pro Tem Pete DeJarnatt said, “I’m very unhappy about this.”