After hundreds of police officers and residents jammed City Hall Monday night, the Costa Mesa City Council agreed "in concept" to the officers' request for a 12.5% raise and a return to the bargaining table.
Police had placed advertisements in newspapers last week urging people to turn out in an effort to get stalled negotiations going. Costa Mesa officers have been working without a contract since July 1.
Council members told the crowd Monday that pleas for better pay and benefits belong at the bargaining table, not in the City Council chambers. However, the council unanimously approved "in concept" the package drafted by the Police Department's bargaining unit.
"We need to do some backtracking now and go to the table and iron out details," Mayor Norma Hertzog said.
Officials of the Costa Mesa Police Assn. say pay for the department's 144 officers ranks 17th among the 24 police agencies in the county. The association seeks a one-year contract with a 12.5% increase. The city's last counter-offer was 6.45% without several of the key benefits the association wants.
Association members say better pay and benefits will attract superior officers and retain veterans on the force. The department is currently down nine officers from the force's desired strength of 153, according to Lt. Clifford McBride.
Problems of officer morale, recruitment and training already plague the department, Councilman Dave Wheeler said earlier Monday.
The compensation package "must be improved or there are going to be more problems in the very near future," Wheeler said.
A survey conducted last year by the Police Department concluded that the department is "facing . . . an alarming and escalating loss of experienced personnel."
The report also stated that over the past 10 years the force has been at full strength "for only months at a time."
The department has a base salary of $2,631 per month, according to a survey conducted by the Assn. of Orange County Chiefs of Police and Sheriff. Irvine tops the list at $3,223, with Stanton the lowest at $2,496.
Wheeler said the package proposed by the police association is "certainly financially feasible for the city. It's a reasonable request, it's necessary and I can't think of any reason not to do it. We used to be getting the No. 1 applicants from the academy, and you don't see that anymore," said Wheeler, "and that's a result of low compensation."