Unpacking Resignations in the Police Department and the Impact on Safety Background
May 30, 2023
I’m departing from my pledged recap of City Council Meetings, such as the one on 4/18, to report on an item of concern to the community. Public safety is the number one concern of any City Government, so we all owe thanks to the Laguna Beach Police Department (LBPD) employees for keeping us safe. They sacrifice family time by working holidays, weekends and night shifts and put their own safety at risk every day in the field. For that we should all be grateful, and be appreciative of their service to our community.
Unfortunately, since May 2021 nine experienced, sworn officers and one parking service officer have left Laguna Beach for other Orange County agencies. Changing jobs can be stressful for officers since it can mean a loss of seniority, demotion to a lower rank, assignment to an undesirable schedule as well as leaving behind colleagues and friends in the community. Why would so many officers resign from working in a beautiful place like Laguna?
A January 21, 2022 article in the Laguna Beach Independent by then-editor, Daniel Langhorne, suggested that the answer to this question could be found in the Laguna Beach Police Employees’ Association (PEA) survey: 47.5% of police union survey respondents said morale in the department was poor or in crisis; and 72.5% said they would or probably would leave the City for another job. I’ve attached a copy of Langhorne’s Indy article for your reference.
Given the PEA’S survey responses, I was concerned that the reason so many reported a desire to leave and that 9-10 officers had left in the last 18 months might be due to the stresses of the pandemic and the defund the police protests. I met with Chief Calvert to ask if these factors may have caused the resignations and low morale, and he said that the George Floyd incident, protests at Main Beach opposing the police, and the country-wide defund the police movement had acted as deterrents to law enforcement careers.
He also said that he discounted PEA’s survey information on low morale because morale was an individual’s choice. Chief Calvert said that he inherited a department that was severely impaired, and that the turnover rate had been steady for the last five years.
Interviews with LBPD
The personal choice explanation of low morale was troubling in that it didn’t seem a clear explanation of high turnover nor provide a solution to reducing the rate of resignations. I decided to seek further information from the rank and file, and separately interviewed 20 sworn officers and support staff who were either currently employed with LBPD or had resigned and were working for another City or County. I have attached anonymous notes from 16 of these interviews since four people requested that notes from their interviews be omitted.
What Officers and Civilian Employees Said:
There were five categories of comments that received the most consensus: Low morale; favoritism/old boys club; over-worked and under staffed; management; and, lack of transparency. I will highlight some individual quotes from each of these categories to illustrate, and add additional notes as applicable:
“People don’t feel cared for and are walking on egg shells”
“Hard work doesn’t get you anywhere”
“I need to be with an organization where we know what to expect”
“Every single day there is a small crisis within the police department”
Favoritism/Old Boys Club
“Not a level playing field-favoritism all around
“Preferential treatment by and for insider clique”
“Promotions and specialty assignments should go to most deserving instead of the favorites”
Over-worked and under staffed
“Low staffing = high work load”
"Sergeants and lieutenants are now on patrol”
“Sergeants are exhausted. They are trying to keep the ship from sinking.”
[GW note: Due to resignations, the remaining officers are required to work more hours. Sergeants and detectives are being given patrol duties, which takes them away from investigations. One detective has a backlog of 80 investigations, and non-injury hit and run accidents are not being investigated. With so many experienced officers leaving, the average experience level of new officers is just 3 years].
“It’s an us (rank and file) vs them (command and City Manager) type of environment
“The City Manager makes all the decisions as if the Chief isn’t running the department”
“There is a distrust between the City Managers and LBPD”
“There are management disconnects with patrols”
[GW note: The Police Department has three trained Public Information Officers (PIO) whose job is to get out press releases and notifications of crimes that affect our community. Unlike other Orange County Police Departments, ALL communications from the PIO officers must be reviewed, and often edited, by the City Communication Manager and the City Manager. This may explain why crime statistics by patrol/neighborhood region of Laguna are no longer provided to the newspapers or the public.]
Lack of Transparency
“Information isn’t shared with the rank and file or the public.”
“Transparency is lacking on crime reporting to the public.”
[GW note: This latter point can impact the safety of the community since the City Manager’s and Communications Manager review and edits of all LBPD press release causes delays in getting the information out to the public. Additionally, they retain the power to suppress and “spin” the information resulting in delays and occasionally information being redacted. Some examples:
Example 1: The video of the fatality that occurred at Pearl St and South Coast Highway was accessed two hours after the incident, but the press release was not issued until 1 p.m. the next day.
Example 2: The press release regarding a domestic violence incident in which the victim reported that her assailant had a knife was edited out with a report that the assailant was unarmed. The assailant subsequently stole a car, crashed it, stole another, and was apprehended the next day in Anaheim.
Example 3: The press release of the woman who was hit by multiple vehicles and killed on Coast Highway near Ruby’s restaurant reported that no drugs or alcohol were involved. However, a vial of methamphetamines was found in the accident debris field.]
City management should not be involved in reviewing every police communication. Let the trained PIO officers do their work. These delays in getting information to the public can have a negative impact on public safety, such as when an assailant with a knife is reported as unarmed. The other risk is that removing information, such as types of drugs, can give the impression that there is less crime than there actually is. We can’t deter certain kinds of crimes without knowing about them and where (patrol areas) they are occurring.
You will find additional concerns mentioned in the interviews, such as drug dealers and fentanyl coming in from outside and the impact that low morale has on recruitment of new officers. The latter can have a negative impact on hiring, and may have contributed to why the LBPD has not been able to hire a single police officer from another city in Orange County in nearly eight years. As one of the interviewed officers commented, “The word on the street is that you won’t be supported if you come to Laguna.”
These interviews supported and amplified the responses on the PEA survey, and suggest that some changes could be made to enhance the working conditions for our LBPD who put themselves on the line for our safety. Some possible solutions could be changes in how officers’ comments on concerns are treated (how about welcomed?); how city management works with the LBPD, particularly in regards to transparency and communication (as in let the PIO do their reporting jobs); and, maybe get input on what works from UC Irvine’s Department of Criminology, Law, and Society.
Laguna Beach has lost too many experienced officers. These losses impact the community’s safety and property as we saw in the Polestar vandalism and theft that occurred around 4 hours after the suspect, who was incarcerated for disturbance of the peace, was released.
Our police officers and civilian employees deserve a workplace that is grounded in the principles of equal treatment for all, fairness in the promotion process, honesty, and ethical standards of conduct.
All representations made in this email reflect the views of the author and are not official statements of the City of Laguna Beach or City Council.
Any mistakes or omissions are the sole responsibility of the author, George Weiss. No public funds were expended on this website..
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Disclaimer: All representations made in this email reflect the views of the author and are not official statements of the City of Laguna Beach or City Council. Any mistakes or omissions are the sole responsibility of the author, George Weiss.
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