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July 13, 2014

DHS Public Safety Commission - July 10, 2014

Chair Jeff Bowman was absent from this meeting.

Public Comments

Donna Lozano said she wanted to know what the Public Safety Commissioners are doing. "What do you know about what our Police Department does or does not know?" She doesn't see any consideration given to finding out what they're doing, what they can't do, or what they need. That's part of the Commission's job. She asked the Police Department (Officer Botich was occupying the Chief's chair this night) how many people are being picked up for jaywalking at night. "All I read about is 'Let's get rid of the Police Department'." Or a personnel issue about what Chief Bressler said. "With the way everybody is slamming this Police Department, where is their heart? They're still putting their heart and soul out on the street every day." She said the Commission is not doing its job to help their job. She doesn't know what the Fire Department needs. She never hears anything. She said that Coachella uses the Sheriff's Department and they got a pay raise.

Vice Chair Meyer said that the Commission is a liaison between the people and the City Council. The Commission looks at budgets and asks questions, he said. He said that the Commission had requested someone from the Sheriff's Department be present at this meeting, but no one came and there was no item on the agenda for that. Commissioners Eastman and Stephens also emphasized that the role of the Commission was advisory. Ms. Stephens said every Commissioner attended the City Council meetings where the Sheriff's Department was discussed. But then they came here to find an agenda with no Sheriff on it, which did not make her happy. She understood the City Council wanted the Commission to look at the Sheriff's department.

Gregory Phillips spoke next. He said he lives in Rancho Del Oro and moved here in 2008 from Rancho Mirage. He expected the "new DHS." But that didn't turn out. He is disappointed with the Police. His ex, who lives a few doors away, got ripped off by a fake appliance repairman. He was able to trace the check he paid with, but Chase Bank said they could do nothing without a Police report. He spoke to Detective Hunter who said he would not take a report and advised him to simply call the Better Business Bureau. Mr. Phillips' ex sent an email to the DHS Chief of Police who called to apologize and say this is not the way business is done in DHS. Mr. Phillips said that shortly after he moved here a family with three "juvenile delinquent" sons moved into a house near him. They began to burglarize houses and sell drugs from their driveway. They let their pitbulls run loose. They vandalized Mr. Phillips' property, throwing large rocks and chunks of glass into his swimming pool. Whenever he was outside his house the kids would call him a "M F faggot." Officer Hunter responded when he called the Police. He observed the vandalism, but as soon as Mr. Phillip told him about the name calling, Mr. Hunter's look changed and he walked away saying "I don't see a crime here and they can call you whatever they want to call you."

There are also squatters in his neighborhood. Mr. Phillips talked to Chief Williams who told him that the squatters had a lease. Mr. Phillips knew, however, that the owner had died 10 months ago, so there was no one to sign a lease. Also, Mr. Phillips had observed that the front door had no lock or even door knob. Chief Williams said they would get a death certificate from Riverside. The Chief took that over to Mission Springs Water District who immediately shut off the water. The squatters wouldn't leave. Mr. Phillips called the Police again. They wouldn't do anything, saying the squatters had a lease. Mr. Phillips favors contracting with the Sheriff's Department, and not just because his son works there.

Pamela Berry asked to know how each Commissioner felt about the recent newspaper reports about a memo Chief Dan Bressler wrote. She also wanted to know where we are at with the [new] Chief. She wanted to know if Police were watching Council members. She said it wasn't clear what they were looking for with "Council member Matas and Mayor Adam Sanchez." [She appears to have confused Scott Matas with Russell Betts - happens all the time.] She also asked the Commission "to advise the public of your knowledge of where the POA lawsuit stands." She has submitted an open record request to learn how many lawsuits had been filed against the Police Department and the results. The deadline for that request is July 14.

Animal Control

At last month's meeting the Commission had asked for someone who could provide budgetary information for Animal Control to attend this meeting. Officer Huffman did not attend. but no one else from Animal Control attended either.

Commissioner Stephens made a formal motion to request an Animal Control supervisor at the next meeting of the Commission. Commissioner Lavy sought to amend the motion to have the City Council look into other ways to handle animal control, including bringing it in house or finding another contractor. He said Riverside County Animal Control was defying this Commission. Ms. Stephens accepted the amendment, but Vice Chair Meyer asked Ms. Stephens to explain the mechanism by which the formal request would be made. Ms. Stephens said it could be as simple as putting it on the agenda and letting staff notify Animal Control. Mr. Lavy said that Officer Huffman had told him that his supervisors told him he did not need to be at this Commission meeting, thereby indicating their awareness of the previous request to have an Animal Control supervisor come to the meeting. The supervisors were present at an earlier meeting and brought no budget information, but heard the Commission's request for budget information.

Ms. Stephens withdrew her motion and restated it as a motion to notify the City Manager to contact Animal Control and demand that they send a supervisor to the next Commission meeting and to notify Animal Control of the Commission's dissatisfaction that Animal Control has ignored the Commission's repeated requests. This was approved 4-0.

Fire

Calls for service continue to rise. In June 2014 there were 373 calls for service compared to 325 in June 2013. Overall this year, calls for service are up 1%.

  • The fire inspector reports that a large hotel has been cited a second time for failure to restore a fire riser. The first citation was for $100 and required compliance within 21 days. The second citation is $250 and gives another 21 days for compliance. The next step is a $500 fine. The Fire Department does have the power to shut down a business if necessary. They closed a hotel last year because their sprinkler system didn't work. If a business is working with the Fire Department, then it's not likely they will be shut down.
  • A Mexican restaurant installed a UL 300 system as required. A UL 300 system (as I understand it) is a fire suppression system for deep fat fryers. But the contractor did not submit plans and didn't follow the mandated process, so the contractor has to submit plans now. After that, the fire inspector will do the testing.
  • Another Mexican restaurant is also installing a UL 300 system and seems to be following the proper procedures.
  • A convenience store installed an unsprinklered walk-in freezer, so now they have to put sprinkler heads in it.
  • A large hotel voluntarily requested a red tag on their cooking operations because they do not have the money to upgrade to a UL 300 system.
  • Some businesses have expressed concern about installing Knox-Boxes. The prices for the box alone start at around $250. Installation is extra. If the Fire Department needs to gain access to your business they will gain access. They will either break in or use the key in the thoughtfully provided Knox-Box.
  • The YK Spa will submit fire alarm plans.

Chief Tomlinson pointed out that when tourist season is here the Fire Department becomes responsible for all of the extra visitors, no matter what country they come from or whether they have insurance or not.

In the 71 years since Desert Hot Springs opened the first Riverside County Fire Station the city has done nothing at all to upgrade the delivery model. It's still a single engine fire station. The Chief said the Skyborne station was 15 years too soon. When construction starts on the west end of the city and the Skyborne station begins to make more calls within the city than in the county, then the county will probably look to the city to begin to pick up the costs.

For the period from July 2013 through March 2014 the county billed the city $950,748.62 for fire services. That averages $105,638.74/month which would project out to $1,267,664.83 for a full fiscal year. Or, if you just wanted to project the April-June 2014 quarter at the same cost as the January-March quarter ($349,332.82) then the total amount projected for the fiscal year would be $1,300,081.44. The estimated cost for this fiscal year was to have been $1,384,621. Either way, slightly under budget.

Code Compliance

For the fiscal year July 2013-June 2014 Code Compliance staff made 5,447 inspections, wrote 1,519 notices of violation, and issued 741 citations with a total value of $330,200. The amount of administrative citations received in the fiscal year was $548,031.89.

There were 214 complaints reported to Code Compliance in June 2014. The number one leading complaint was vehicles parked off pavement (66). That was followed by junk/trash (38) and trash containers in the wrong place (21).

[B]etween the period of June 13th and June 24th we removed 209 election signs. Currently we are aware of only two remaining election signs and are working with the property owners and campaign offices to have them removed (those locations are the corners of Palm & Estrella and the Walgreens parking lot on Palm & Two Bunch.

Commissioner Lavy asked about the status of the RV repair garage on Palm just north of the KFC. [In the past this has more accurately been referred to as "the junk yard."] The answer is that they are claiming financial hardship. Also, permits need to be pulled and plans have to be drawn up. The current deadline for compliance is August 30.

Commissioner Lavy made a motion to recommend to the City Council that they begin the process to adopt an ordinance addressing political signs, which are still completely exempt from the sign code. Mr. Lavy's motion suggested following the provisions for temporary signs. They would not be permitted earlier than 30 days before an election and must be removed within 10 days after the election. Vice Chair Meyer said some cities require political signs to be stamped and dated. He suggested delaying the motion until the next meeting and asking Code Enforcement staff to come back with some options.

Or, they could just go back to that ordinance that was written up last year that everybody except the City Council thought was a good idea, so they didn't act on it.

The motion was dropped. A discussion of the subject will be agendized in August. Code Enforcement staff will provide information about political sign ordinances in other cities.

Police

There were 2,054 calls for service in June, compared to 1,799 in May. Officer initiated contacts dropped from 619 in May to 558 in June. The Police wrote 527 reports, including 200 non-criminal reports. In May they wrote 589 reports.

Commissioner Stephens asked how the Police were doing with overtime. Officer Botich said staffing is up. There are only 3 (maybe 4) empty spots now. Most of the new officers are now working solo. Overtime use is down and they have gone from mandatory OT to voluntary.

A large group of interviews of potential new hires is scheduled for next week. Officer Botich participated in 8 interviews in the last week or so. They are focusing on getting laterals, although there are a few that are not long out of the academy.

Commissioner Lavy asked about the state of the Police Officers' Association lawsuit. Officer Botich said he could answer as Vice President of the POA. The lawsuit is at the same point it's been at the whole time. "We're waiting to be able to speak with the City Council or city staff in regards to contract negotiations." "In the opinion of the POA and the body it represents, the lawsuit is a negotiable matter as long as the city's willing to negotiate our employment." As to the lawsuit blocking the city's ability to proceed with the Sheriff's bid, "it's moreso that you can't proceed with changing the contract of the Police Department while there are open negotiations," Officer Botich said.

Mr. Lavy asked how the Police deal with squatters. Officer Botich said that sometimes the squatters present the police with fake papers, such as a lease. The fakes are of varying qualities, but any piece of paper like that requires the Officer to do research before he can remove them from the property. Some squatters just break in with no pretense of any paperwork. Other squatters are themselves victims of fraud who have signed a fake lease with someone who was not the actual owner. The research is a joint operation of Police and Code Enforcement.

Mr. Lavy said that in a case where there are "No Trespassing" signs and the building is boarded up, then it's obvious that the squatters have not been a victim of fraud. Officer Botich said that in no-brainer situations like that, the Police go in and remove the people who can be cited for trespassing. But most times those people end up with other crimes being charged. Trespassing alone is a misdemeanor, so the Police will not arrest them or haul them away to jail if that is the only crime.

Vice Chair Meyer asked for an explanation of the Police Department's policy on writing reports. Officer Botich said there are different types of reports. If there is criminal activity, a criminal report can be made, if the victim or reporting party wants a report. Certain crimes, such as domestic violence, are always written up. The Officer can take an "informational report" or "Officer's report." The PD can print that out for you for insurance purposes or whatever you need it for.

Mr. Meyer asked if there were a dollar threshold that could determine if a report is made or not. Officer Botich said he was fairly sure there was not, but he would check to see if there dollar guidelines on some things. But if, for example, somebody steals a pack of gum from Rite Aid and Rite Aid wants a report, then the Officer writes a report.

Mr. Meyer asked about a hypothetical situation where an Officer simply refused to take a report; how would they get the situation rectified? Officer Botich said the first thing is always to call the station and talk to the Watch Commander for any reason you may be dissatisfied with the Police. The citizen can go to the Police Station and fill out a complaint form.

Commissioner Comments

Commissioner Stephens said the hiring of the Chief of Police is done by the City Manager. It has been on the closed session agendas for City Council. As for the POA lawsuit, the Commissioners don't know any more than what we've all heard, because it's also a City Council closed session agenda item. She understood there is no dollar savings by going to the Sheriff's Department if we maintain the same level of service. The Sheriff's Department rep who spoke at the City Council meeting basically said that. She said this subject, which is the biggest piece of our city budget, deserves a study by a neutral party.

She said people can file lawsuits for any reason and that you would be amazed at the trivial subjects that have been used for lawsuits against the city.

Commissioner Eastman praised the Police for parking the empty Black & Whites on Palm. He has seen drivers slowing down for them. But he cautioned that the drivers will figure it out, so eventually the Police will have to put a live Officer in the car. Officer Botich said they're already doing that on a limited basis.

Commissioner Lavy made a motion to suggest to the City Council that they seek a bid from the Sheriff's Department for dispatch only. Officer Botich said one challenge in doing that is the Sheriff uses a different system than ERICA. Ms. Stephens said that there should also be a study of bringing dispatch in house. The motion was approved 4-0.

Vice Chair Meyer congratulated the Police on being able to go to voluntary overtime. When he was in the Sheriff's Department he was never able to get enough staff to get away from mandatory overtime.

As for the Desert Sun article about Chief Bressler, he said it's a normal thing for a Chief to talk to his staff and ask them to keep him informed about contacts with political people or activists. It's a common thing do that, because when you're Chief you don't want to come to a meeting like this Commission meeting and not know what your Officers have been talking about with other people who are in charge. "I would not have done it on email," Mr. Meyer said. Usually that's just an oral conversation. It's important for the Police to know what the issues are in the community.

However, it does not make Mr. Meyer happy that we found out about this via the Desert Sun. His concern is not so much what happened with "an email from somebody who apparently doesn't work here anymore," but who would release this information from closed session. "We as citizens of Desert Hot Springs are learning a significant thing in our community not from our leaders or people in the community, but from the Desert Sun."

Mr. Meyer made a motion to have city staff schedule a study session with the Sheriff's Department so the Commission could examine their proposal. Approved 4-0.

Mr. Meyer said the Public Safety Commission should take a look at marijuana dispensaries. At the June meeting they had asked to have it on this July agenda, but it wasn't on there. He moved to have a city staff representative come to the Commission to give a presentation on the dispensary issues. Mr. Lavy said he had seen Marijuana In America: Colorado Pot Rush on CNBC. Also he recommended checking the FBI website for statistics on crime "in areas where they have legalized it."

The FBI website has complete statistics only as late as 2012. Partial data has been posted for 2013. Recreational marijuana is legal only in Colorado and Washington. It became legal in Colorado January 1, 2014. It was theoretically legal earlier than that in Washington, but no retail sales points were permitted until last week. So (1) there are no relevant crime statistics at the FBI level yet, and (2) that's recreational marijuana and in California there's only medical marijuana.

Mr. Lavy asked his fellow Commissioners if they knew any other source of information about marijuana that they could look at.

[Anything other than a CNBC program? Yeah. There's a ton, but the best one for us is (drumroll please) the Palm Springs Police Department. They can tell us just about everything we'd need to know on the issue from a law enforcement perspective. I suggested this to Mr. Lavy after the meeting.]

The motion was approved 4-0.

Filed under Desert Hot Springs,Marijuana,Public Safety | permalink | July 13, 2014 at 09:00 PM

Comments

I was appalled on Monday night when I saw Karen Devine say, on air "...There is always some trouble in Desert Hot Springs"
ITo follow is my letter to the news Editor.
Dear sir,

You need to have Karen Devine apologized for her off handed opinion on the 11:00 News on Monday, July 28, 2014.

Her sarcastic comment "...there's always some trouble in Desert Hot Springs." is completely uncalled for.

We do not care what her opinion is, but others hear her, and it contributes to the negative view of a beautiful and important part of the entire valley.

There are many MANY positive things happening that you may want to discover here in DHS.

I demand an apology from her ON AIR!

This needs to stop.

Posted by: Mike Picardi at Jul 29, 2014 4:18:08 PM

Pamela, did you have some observation to make about that paragraph?

Posted by: Ron's Log at Jul 28, 2014 4:50:21 PM

I have yet to get the info I requested thru FOIA re: lawsuits. Past due as of July 14
The number of lawsuits on Riv. Co Sheriff is irrelevant Cole.

Posted by: Pamela at Jul 28, 2014 4:50:17 PM

Refreshing your memory..
Pamela Berry asked to know how each Commissioner felt about the recent newspaper reports about a memo Chief Dan Bressler wrote. She also wanted to know where we are at with the [new] Chief. She wanted to know if Police were watching Council members. She said it wasn't clear what they were looking for with "Council member Matas and Mayor Adam Sanchez." [She appears to have confused Scott Matas with Russell Betts - happens all the time.] She also asked the Commission "to advise the public of your knowledge of where the POA lawsuit stands." She has submitted an open record request to learn how many lawsuits had been filed against the Police Department and the results. The deadline for that request is July 14.

Posted by: Pamela at Jul 28, 2014 4:46:13 PM

I don't know where the breakdown was, but since the Sheriff wasn't on the agenda, it would seem the problem was that the staff dropped the ball and didn't contact the Sheriff. The Sheriff probably did not stand up the Commission.

Posted by: Ron's Log at Jul 14, 2014 5:24:46 PM

So mr. Mayer, you are unpleasantly surprised that no one from the Riv Co Sheriff showed up as you requested? Why don't you look into their track record in other contract cities? Last month the Sheriff sent three deputies to a city council meeting, they did not really tell the whole truth about costs etc. and instead of taking the time in answering questions about the proposal,not one stayed to respond, Neither Larry, Curly,or Moe had the common courtesy to help us get the true facts. As to lawsuits filed against DHS police dept. I do not know, but how many lawsuits against Riv. Co Sheriff ???

Posted by: Cole at Jul 14, 2014 5:08:32 PM

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