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Calif. Cops Brace for Bankruptcy Cutbacks

July 12, 2012  | 

Photo: San Bernardino P.D.
Photo: San Bernardino P.D.

Officers serving with the San Bernardino (Calif.) Police Department are bracing for severe cutbacks following the City Council's decision to file for bankruptcy.

City leaders now have 30 days to craft a "bankruptcy budget," after the City Council's Tuesday decision to file for Chapter 9 protection. In Stockton, which became the largest city to file bankruptcy in the nation in late June, city leaders proposed cutting police wages and eliminating retiree health-care benefits to help balance the ledger.

Similar cuts may be considered in San Bernardino, the head of the city's police union told POLICE Magazine.

"There's nothing that's not on the table," said Steve Turner, president of the San Bernardino Police Officers Association and a homicide detective.

On Thursday, San Bernardino Police Chief Robert Handy acknowledged the department may have to "modify our staffing models and make changes to our organizational structure," which may lead to drastic changes in the way the agency operates.

Chief Handy will shift officers from specialized assignments, including gang units, to patrol duty to ensure quick response to reported crimes, reports the Los Angeles Times. He has also suggested eliminating crime prevention programs.

Mayor Pat Morris told KTLA the city will consider outsourcing police services to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. The department's 294 sworn officers police a city with 211,000 residents.

San Bernardino, from a cash-flow standpoint, is in worse shape than Stockton, city leaders said. The city faces a $45 million deficit, compared to Stockton's $26-million shortfall, and has less revenue, according to city officials. Stockton's 325 sworn officers patrol a city of 291,000 residents.

San Bernardino is the fourth California city, along with Stockton, Vallejo, and Mammoth Lakes, that has filed for bankruptcy. And it may not be the last, Michael Coleman, a fiscal policy adviser for the California League of Cities, told The Times.

Coleman and others pointed to rising pension costs as playing a role in the bankruptcy filings. In San Bernardino, the city's retirement spending has jumped from $1 million in fiscal year 2006-2007—9% of the general fund—to $1.9 million, or 13% of the fund, in 2011-12. Public safety makes up 78% of city spending this year, reports the San Bernardino Sun.

However, mismanagement of funds by city leaders also caused the crisis, Turner said. Turner cited the city's lavish spending on projects such as a rapid-transit bus line and the Regal Theater.

"In a nutshell, we're in this condition because of mismanagement by the city," Turner said. "When all else fails, attack public employees."

Since 2009, the city's employee unions have given $10 million in concessions. The police union agreed to a wage freeze and reduced retiree medical benefits—an officer with 20 years of service would get $200 a month. The union also gave up a uniform allowance of $950 per officer.

By Paul Clinton

Related:

Stockton Cops May Face Wage, Benefit Cuts Due To Bankruptcy


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