LONG BEACH — Two months ago, a $15.9-million proposal to expand the city police force looked like a sure bet for the November ballot.
Council members appeared receptive to Police Chief Lawrence Binkley's plan to add 146 officers and 70 support workers to the police force. The chief argued that the new officers are badly needed to keep a lid on crime in a growing city.
With the concept in place, the ballot issue was turned over to city staff and a City Council committee for fine-tuning. But the measure was never prepared for the November ballot. While a round of finger-pointing has begun, the councilman who held up the issue says there simply was not enough time to prepare the proposal, which would have to be approved by a two-thirds majority of voters.
"It would have been improper for us (council members) to rush it on the November ballot," said Councilman Ray Grabinski, who chairs the committee reviewing the measure. "Whether it passed or not, I would be uncomfortable."
Missing Deadline Costly
Because they missed the Aug. 9 deadline for approving ballot measures, however, council members face the prospect of having to spend at least $378,800 to stage a special election. Otherwise, the ballot measure would have to be delayed until the next regularly scheduled election in April, 1990.
Binkley originally proposed the expansion during the council's deliberations on the 1988-89 city budget. Council members did not question the need for more police, but they expressed concern about the cost of Binkley's plan and suggested the issue be placed before the voters.
If property tax bills were increased to finance Binkley's proposal, for example, the owner of a 1,400-square-foot home would have to pay another $126 a year in taxes, according to a city staff report.
Councilman Warren Harwood, who is calling for the police officers to be added as soon as possible, said he believes Mayor Ernie Kell should have pushed harder to get the issue on the ballot.
"If I had had Ernie's help on this, it would be on the November ballot," he said. "If it wasn't to be on the November ballot, I believe there should have been an implied commitment to put it forth in some other manner."
Harwood said the proposal to increase police staffing was bounced around for months and that by late July, there was sufficient information to prepare a ballot item.
Kell denied Harwood's allegations. "We did not have enough time to properly get the input from the citizens," he said. "We probably legally could have put it on, (but it is) far too important an issue to blindly rush ahead."
Since the proposal did not make the ballot, both Grabinski's committee and the Public Safety Advisory Commission have planned a series of hearings.
Grabinski and Councilman Jeff Kellogg, who serves on the committee with Evan Anderson Braude, say they still do not know whether Binkley's recommendations will be adopted without modification into a ballot measure, or how the plan would be financed.
City Clerk Shelba Powell said a special election would cost $378,800, including absentee ballots. Grabinski and Kell say they might favor a ballot by mail. Powell said, however, that such an election would cost $427,300 if the city paid the return postage.
Chief Binkley's proposed expansion would bring his department's staffing ratio to two officers per 1,000 residents, up from the current 1.59 per 1,000. The Los Angeles Police Department has a ratio of 2.3 per 1,000.
The number of police officers has remained relatively stable for five years, although the chief has placed more officers in the field by hiring civilian employees to fill desk jobs.
Although crime decreased in the fiscal year ending June 30, it has increased over the last five years, mirroring a national trend. Calls for service totaled 653,437 in the last fiscal year, up from 565,186 two years ago.
Binkley would increase the number of patrol officers on all shifts, including doubling the elite Metro corps, which generally works on special problems.
Eddy A. Hatzenbuhler, the Police Department's manager of executive operations, said that all but $3 million of Binkley's proposal would pay for the salaries and benefits of more police officers. The remainder would pay for such civilian positions as jailers and typists.
The new officers would all be below the rank of sergeant. "There's no 'brass' at all in that. That's street cops, basically," Hatzenbuhler said.
LONG BEACH POLICE STAFFING
Officers Per 1,000 residents Support staff Current 668 1.59 404 Proposed 832 2.00 474
Source: Long Beach Police Department