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IT’S A WRAP

 

Vallejo’s Ad-Hoc Citizen’s Public Safety Advisory Board submits final report to City Manager. An overview.


By Hatfield McCoy

1/13/13


Former Council member Joanne Schivley, most recently chair of the Citizen’s Public Safety Advisory Committee, sent the final report from the Ad-Hoc Citizen’s Public Safety Advisory board to the City Manager’s office last week. It contains many ideas and suggestions of change for Vallejo’s own Police & Fire Departments. “I am very proud of our work. Each member contributed a great deal to the committee. The speakers were informative, and each committee member showed focus, intelligence and talent. I was very pleased with everyone’s professional participation. Each committee member contributed a lot of their own expertise,” said Schivley. The committee met at the City Hall Council chambers twice monthly to hash out ideas and changes to be potentially implemented for both the Police and Fire Departments of Vallejo. But first, it is important to understand the background and history of this entity as designated and created by the City Council last year.

 

On December 13th, 2011, Council member Stephanie Gomes brought up the need for some changes necessary in both the police and fire departments of Vallejo. So on December 20, 2011 the Vallejo City Council established the city’s first ever ‘Ad-Hoc Citizen’s Public Safety Advisory Committee’. The original concept was an utter anathema to the Vallejo Police Department who showed up at City Hall in force to discourage such an action. The Vallejo Fire Department, however, seemed to welcome the idea of potential improvements. The original city resolution-12-050 N.C. established the purpose and responsibilities of the committee: a.) Receive referrals and make recommendations to the City Council as to public safety issues within the city of Vallejo. b.) Receive public input regarding enhancement of public safety in the community. c.) Review opportunities for public safety cost savings, revenue opportunities and enhanced technology to create a safer community, and d.) Review ongoing enhancements of public safety already underway in the Vallejo police and fire departments. To be more definitive, the committee was charged with 1.) Review ‘best practices’ in other cities with respect to Citizens Police Commissions, including approaches, powers, limitations and the impact of various models of citizen review. 2.) Review best practices in other cities in terms of police and fire department efficiency operations, revenue generation (how to make more money through parking enforcement, etc.), reducing service calls, crime suppression, increasing police presence, and enhancing technology to reduce crime and thereby creating a safer community, 3.) Review of current and future trends in public safety compensation.


This special committee was created by the Vallejo City Council with Councilmember Stephanie Gomes and Mayor Osby Davis having agreed to be the liaisons to the full council. It should be noted, however, that Mayor Osby Davis voted against this proposal, and did not attend a single one of the meetings. The Ad-Hoc Citizen’s Public Safety Advisory Committee was charged with gathering the information outlined above, making careful considerations as to recommendations of change, and ultimately presenting their findings to the “City Council Public Safety Committee” per se, i.e. Gomes and Davis. The original target date for a final report was to be October 15, 2012. But that was later extended to a December 17th final meeting.

The selection of the core committee was handled in a democratic manner. Each Council member appointed one person. So exactly what was necessary to become a committee member? A potential member had to be a.) a citizen of Vallejo and b.) a registered Vallejo voter. The following citizens were ultimately selected: Kathy Beistel, Karol Heppe, former Vallejo police officer Kevin Kelley, former Council member Joanne Schivley, Robert Schussel, former Vallejo cop & firefighter William Tweedy, and former police officer/school board member: Burky Worel. Police Sergeant (since promoted to Lieutenant by Chief Kreins) Sidney DeJesus, and Patrick Dunn of the Fire Department. Both the police & fire reps were selected as non-voting members; and they were the only paid members of this committee. All others volunteered their time. During the first meeting on April 11th, member Kathy Beistel recommended Joanne Schivley for the committee Chair position, and Bob Schussel was then appointed Vice-Chair.


The committee heard extensive presentations from such entities as the Vacaville Police Department, whose representative, Susanne Johnson, spoke at length regarding their Police in Service program. Johnson spoke enthusiastically as to how their volunteer program functions with one program director coordinating dozens of volunteers. “Our program incorporates people of all age groups, and from all walks of life,” she reported. Other speakers throughout the early spring included Solano County Sheriff Stanton, who gave a thorough overview of his department’s volunteer program. When one committee member asked how he could afford to have volunteers, Sheriff Stanton replied: “Quite frankly, with budget cuts, we cannot afford not to invite our volunteers down to help us.” Subsequent meetings included the Police Chief of Antioch, Chief Allen Cantando who offered stellar information as to his “Coffee with the Cops” program wherein he meets with Antioch citizens weekly to hear their concerns, and to receive possible suggestions as to how to improve his overall department. “I have received a number of great suggestions from the community, many of which I have implemented immediately and which are still being used today. I am totally open to new ways of doing things better,” Cantando proudly admitted. Cantando shared many of those ideas with the committee. At another meeting, the Vallejo Fire Department gave a thorough overview of their CERT program. Several committee members suggested that the VFD do more to market and publicize this program. CERT stands for the Citizen Emergency Response Team wherein they invite citizens of all ages to prepare for an extensive training in disaster rescue, health and safety mechanisms, etc. They have a few training sessions a year to teach the public how to respond to disastrous situations. The hope is that they retain those people as volunteers at the Vallejo Fire Department. It is a very successful program, and department representatives strongly encourage those interested to contact the Fire Department if interested. They will begin another training session in September of this year. Now former Vallejo Police Chief Nichelini, joined by retired police captain, and former City Council member Tony Pearsall, gave a through outline as to how the now defunct “Beat Health” program functioned when in full service several years back. They explained that it was a combination of Code Enforcement, the Police Dept, the Fire Dept, Fighting Back Partnership, working together to help the general citizenry accomplish more arrests, and directly address citizens’ concerns. “Beat Health was very effective. I wish we could resurrect it in some way again,” said Pearsall


Other meetings included a professor from San Jose State University who spoke about new trends in police departments from an academic standpoint. On July 25th the Vallejo fire department staff weighed in on its ‘Emergency Medical Services.’ In the past, many community members have questioned why a hook and ladder truck must show up when someone is having trouble breathing; these policies were thoroughly reviewed. On August 8th, the public heard from the Internal Affairs Officer of the Vallejo Police Department. Currently there is no Citizens Review Commission in the city of Vallejo, and the police department harbors its own ‘Internal Affairs Officer Division. On August 22nd, the inner workings of a Civilian Police Review Commission were explained. A Citizen’s Review Commission exists in a few other bay area cities such as San Francisco and Oakland. An ultra sophisticated police union lawyer also came forward with a presentation stating some of his views regarding city public safety oversight committees.


Shortly after its inception, the Ad Hoc committee decided it would be better to segment into ‘sub-committees’. They established a breakdown as follows: Community, Operations, and Finance. The results narrowed it down to: Community (which includes volunteerism and communications): Beistel, Schussel, Tweedy. Operations: (Review operations manuals for each public safety department, new best practices, etc.): Heppe, Kelley, Worel. And Finance: (How money is spent, compensation, new items for departments, etc.): Schivley, Schussel, Worel. The separate committees agreed to meet off-site to discuss potential suggestions for each category.


The public was openly invited to attend these meetings and to speak out at the Community Forum portion of the meeting. The meetings were televised on the Vallejo government cable channel, Channel 28. “The more we hear from the public, the better informed we will be for our final reports. I try to get the information out on Facebook, and wherever else possible. Please spread the word,” Committee member Kathy Beistel urged. With that invitation the committee heard from many speakers throughout the year. And a great deal was offered by the Romero family whose son was shot and killed earlier in the year by officers from the Vallejo police department.


Fast forward to January, 2013: There are myriad suggestions in the full report which is soon to be submitted to the Vallejo City Council by way of Council members Gomes and Davis. We shall herein offer just a few concepts brought forward; and the full report is available on-line at the City’s website. Perhaps predictably, the committee would like the city council to consider some of the following: 1.) a.) Make additional financial contribution requirements by employees (of both Police & Fire) to costs traditionally borne by the employer (i.e. pension, health care).b.) Reduce other benefits such as vacation days and holiday pay for both police and fire departments. 2.) Many ideas for communications improvement for both departments. 3.) Receive an annual report from the Police Chief regarding implementation of policies and statistical info regarding citizen complaints received by the police department. 4.) Implement a ‘Customer Satisfaction Survey’ so that the public can weigh in on citizens satisfaction with each public safety department. 5.) Sensitize Vallejo police officers to Vallejo citizens. 6.) Place greater emphasis on parking enforcement, especially where Handicapped Parking exists. 7.) Review job descriptions to possibly realign, and reassign duties in both police and fire departments. 8.) Change scheduling to better utilize sworn officers. 9.) Implement a coordinated volunteer program within both the police and fire departments by using more volunteers, and perhaps hiring a volunteer coordinator. (There are currently approximately 30 volunteers in the Vallejo police department, with many more people wanting to volunteer. A coordinator could schedule training, and work load accordingly. 10.) Work with the homeowners associations to understand more clearly resident’s concerns. 11.) Enforce existing noise ordinance (think adjacent car blaring boom boxes). 12.) Provide additional training of police officers to reduce officer shootings. 13.) Require the use of body & car camera to reduce funds spent in claims settlements and lawsuits. 14.) Introduce effective program to reduce Workers Compensation Claims. 15.) Use programs such as Shot Spotters, Comstat, etc. to decrease crime and apprehend criminals. 16.) Consider PredPol to forecast where crimes are likely to take place next; PredPol features a map of a city marked with red squares to show zones where crimes are more likely to occur, among other things. 17.) Encourage public safety departments to be more accessible to the community with such measures as Town Hall Meetings, Coffee with a cop (or two), Educational programs and school visits, and perhaps an annual or bi-annual Open House for both police and fire departments.


It is no secret, nor is it a joke that many citizens are virtually afraid of the Vallejo police, and skeptical of some of the methods currently used at the Vallejo Fire Department. This committee served a valuable purpose, but clearly many of their ideas revolve around public safety compensation and COMMUNICATION. “I have read the draft report, and I have begun to implement many of these ideas already,” said Police Chief Joe Kreins. “Indeed, many of the suggestions have been taken by Chief Kreins prior to even getting out of committee,” said Committee Co-Chair Robert Schussel. “All in all, this was a very well worth while committee, I don’t think that I have wasted my time,” said committee member Karol Heppe. It should be noted that Ms. Heppe works with the city of San Francisco in their police oversight arena.


The next step is for this detailed and thorough report to be given to the City Council liaisons: Council members Stephanie Gomes and Osby Davis. From there it will go to the full council for a final review. Hopefully, by this time next year the committee’s ideas and suggestions will be implemented and we shall experience far better Police and Fire Departments in the city of Vallejo as a result of their concentrated efforts. So alas, it is a final wrap, and it is now the citizen’s job to determine whether this report becomes fish-wrap and sits on a shelf for many years to come, or its contents are taken seriously by both the City Council, the neighborhoods, and the Police & Fire Chiefs. Let’s beat the rap and accusations that we cannot work together for a common, greater good with the goal of establishing a far better rapport between Vallejo citizens and her public safety divisions. Be vigilant and stay tuned.