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When I last left the topic of the Irvine Police Department the focus was on whether or not the Department had a “Quota” system within its Traffic Bureau. I got politician style answers and denials which I shared in the last installment. The evidence and reports from Officers on the job I think told another story. Since then further discussion with Officers as well as some concerned citizens has been dominated by more serious matters; Officer morale and safety. While the people who spoke with me (again anonymously-especially since the last story ran) were concerned primarily with Officer on the job safety they also made it clear public safety was an issue as well.
One Irvine citizen-activist who has done a tremendous amount of research as well as expressing her views with Chief Maggard himself, believes the primary issue is in numbers. There are simply too few Officers to handle the Patrol needs of a City the size of Irvine. Her investigating revealed that for a City of over 70 square miles only nine Officers divided into three sectors can be expected to be on patrol and responding to calls at any one time. The Portola sector which is approximately 26 square miles is likely to have only three units at a time. She questioned the Chief about this issue and was continuously reassured there was plenty of patrol coverage. One Officer I spoke with told me that it is simply a matter of time before an Officer is seriously injured or killed due to the inability to get proper backup in a timely manner. This veteran Officer also expressed his concern for the safety of the citizens of Irvine. With so few units on patrol a serious 9-1-1 call could dominate them and as he said to me, “What happens if a second serious 9-1-1 call comes in? It’s about being spread too thin. The Cops are at increased risk and so is the public. But the Chief gets to hold on to the Safest City in America title.” For now that is the case, as Chief Maggard told me himself, “Irvine is very proud of its safe city record and the fact that it has maintained the lowest violent crime rate of any large city in the nation for the past 8 years.” Officers insist that it is only a matter of time before this image fades.
One complaint regarding Officer safety is concerned with the radios they use to perform their duties. Apparently there are buildings in the city that the radios are ineffective transmitting from. If an Officer responds to an apartment on a domestic disturbance call (which are often the most dangerous) and finds him or herself needing assistance and the radio isn’t working, well, the problem and potential for tragedy is obvious.
Officers tell me that this radio issue is addressed by City ordinance but that follow up from the Department has been lax at best. I asked Chief Maggard about the radio problem. He assured me that Officer safety has always been a “top priority with me and our command staff.” My sources have explained what a serious and neglected issue this has been with the leadership and so I feel it is best to quote Chief Maggard at length; “several years ago our city council approved a “first of its kind” ordinance requiring new buildings, including those with subterranean garages or structures that might obstruct the signal of public safety radios, install Bi-directional Amplifiers (BDAs). These BDAs act as “signal boosters” and significantly improve radio communications in these unique areas. Unfortunately, there were a few structures built within the city prior to the ordinance going into effect. As a result we have been partnering with the owners of these developments in order to retrofit them with BDAs. And, we have had good success with these partnerships. We have completed the retrofit of three properties, the most recent, a very large apartment community. Additionally, we are examining a new technology where our patrol cars could be fitted with a “radio power booster” that can respond to areas where there could be radio deficiencies. To further support officer safety, we approved a formal policy for the few remaining buildings in Irvine where communication gaps are known. The policy allows for a responding police officer to request backup assistance prior to entering any location where a communication gap may exist.”
My sources in the Department agree with their Chief that attention has been focused on the matter recently. They also agree that it is not due to forward looking leadership but by pressure applied by outside government agencies such as OSHA. In fact a complaint was filed that initiated momentum to address the problem. Again, one of my new acquaintances explained, “it requires complaining to outside the Department to make any change inside the Department. You have to keep your head down though or your career may be in jeopardy.” This is why Officers like this one have reached out to other agencies and to other press outfits and even to a simple blogger like myself. It is also why I can’t get any of them to speak and agree to use their names. “The leadership keeps its business in house”, I was made to understand.
This returns us to OSHA, the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In the last couple of years they have investigated more than one complaint against the Irvine Police Department. I am told the “radio problem” was one such complaint being investigated and another was even more serious where it focuses on leadership. Apparently, during an exercise on arrest and control techniques one Officer conducting the training session actually broke the neck of a fellow Officer. I was able to find the names of the parties involved in the incident. I made contact with the injured party. I asked him via phone message if he would be willing to discuss his ordeal and the apparent investigation that ensued. He didn’t return my call but did send me a polite email explaining that he would prefer not to relive this event and just wanted to focus on his work. Out of respect to him I chose not to bother him with further questions and am not revealing his name here. There is one interesting aspect to my short exchange with him though; I never left an email address on his voice mail, only a cell phone number. The only people in the Police Department who I have shared that email address with are a Lieutenant who I questioned in my last story and Chief Maggard himself. My guess is this Officer reported my message and was “encouraged” as to how to reply to my query. This is only speculation on my part but interesting just the same. The Officer who conducted the “training” has since retired and I was not able to reach him for comment.
So what is the story behind all of this and is there any truth to the notion that anything occurred that required the attention of OSHA? Well, apparently something. While I was unable to obtain copies of the OSHA Investigations I was able to confirm they took place. I can also confirm that fines were imposed regarding proper reporting of a serious work related injury or fatality. These links provide abstracts from the reports:
http://www.osha.gov/pls/imis/establishment.violation_detail?id=313168064&citation_id=01001 Standard Cited: 342 A (18B-CA) Work-Connected Fatality/Injury Reporting (Penalty and Failure to Abate Event History)
Clearly something was done improperly enough to warrant investigation as well as the imposition of fines against the Department. My contacts inside again assured me that this is the kind of “reactive leadership” they suffer from and one of many reasons why morale is so low among the rank and file. I am working to get the complete reports on the OSHA Investigations and when and if I am able I will report in more detail those findings. In the meantime though it is obvious there are problems. There is a distinct disconnect between the Officers and those they take orders from.
Another morale issue is created by what is deemed to be a Department that is too “management heavy”. One example given is that the Department employs a full time Lieutenant whose, “sole purpose is as a press information officer.” These type of positions, many Officers believe, absorb too much of the budget and are one of the reasons they haven’t received any pay raises since 2008. As one Officer put it, “In a City that is worth over a billion dollars and one of the wealthiest cities in California it is hard to understand why we are so understaffed, underpaid and under appreciated by Management and the City leadership as a whole.” Not only are they not getting raises they are also paid considerably less than their counterparts in other Orange County Police Departments. These Officers are hoping to get the attention of the City leaders without “outing” themselves and facing reprisals from their bosses. Citizen-activists like the brave Irvine resident I mentioned above are taking their concerns to the City Council and making their voices heard. Tonight the meeting should get interesting. In part three of this small series I will discuss the fallout from that meeting (if any) and many of the other concerns of citizens and Officers alike.