PUBLIC SAFETY FACILITY ¬ó An analysis of the Santa Monica Police Department after the exit of its former chief shows an well-run organization with some structural and communications problems that have yet to be addressed.

The report was compiled by ICMA, a consulting organization that focuses on local government management, in preparation for the search for a new police chief after the departure of former top cop Tim Jackman in February.

It provided the basis for the process that ended in the selection of Jacqueline Seabrooks, the former chief in Inglewood, Calif., but the document didn’t contain its comments to that topic.

Instead, it provided a wide range of suggestions for the reorganization of the department, including a role for non-sworn officers in the supervision of uniformed personnel, a reexamination of a popular work schedule that gives officers more days off and splitting the current union into three bargaining units instead of one.

The suggestions are “food for thought” rather than a set path forward for the department, said City Manager Rod Gould.

“It causes us to look at it in a different way to promote the discussion,” Gould said. “It’s always good in a time of transition to have the department take a look at itself.”

Consultants spent days interviewing people from within the city government and police department as well as the general public to get a sense of the structure and make recommendations on what’s working, what isn’t and the qualities a new chief would have to have to be successful. (Daily Press Editor-in-Chief Kevin Herrera participated in the process.)

That work as well as past experience resulted in the suggestions, some of which have raised red flags for the union that represents all sworn officers in the department, the Police Officers Association or POA.

Splitting the union

The consultants recommended the creation of an elected group called the “Officers’ Council” to meet with Seabrooks on a regular basis to discuss “the state of the department,” including current and future policies and challenges.

The group would represent all ranks within the department, and would play a role in developing and putting in place new policies and programs.

“What it’s recommending is what the POA already does,” said Matthew Rice, spokesman for the union.

The group has a board composed of three sergeants, five officers and a lieutenant, and part of the job is to meet with the chief of police for all of the reasons listed in the report.

“We didn’t understand why it was necessary, because it was repetitive,” Rice said. “None of our members are interested in having a second POA to do the work we were elected to do. We don’t know where that came from.”

The report also plants the seed of splitting the POA into different bargaining units to represent different ranks within the department.

ICMA consultants believed that the union could be divided into three pieces, one dealing with police officers, a second with sergeants and lieutenants and a third for captains and above.

It’s not unheard of.

The Los Angeles Police Department has two such bargaining units, said Eric Rose, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Protective League.

That group represents 9,900 rank and file members, many times the size of the entire SMPD.

Furthermore, the Command Officers Association, which represents management, has a “me too” clause in its agreements, meaning they get the same percentages and pay increases that the rank and file receive, Rose said.

Rice was puzzled by the ICMA’s approach to the bargaining units, calling it “curious.”

“From our perspective, we’re happy with what we have,” Rice said.

Gould didn’t jump on board with the suggestion either.

“We already have 10 bargaining groups (to negotiate with),” Gould said. “Having 11 or 12 doesn’t excite us.”

Issues of concern

The report also identified three areas of concern brought up during the 35 interviews conducted by consultants.

According to the report, the “most sensitive and critical issue” confronting the SMPD is youth engagement and violence prevention, followed by homeless outreach and the impact of development on car and pedestrian traffic.

Youth violence snagged the headlines in the beginning of 2012 when police had to get involved with a series of fights that erupted out of Santa Monica High School during school hours, after classes let out and during sporting events.

Ultimately, both the prospects for reorganization and the focus of the department depend on Seabrooks, who’s still getting her feet wet during her second week on the job.

“The report will serve as reference material as I conduct my independent assessment of the organization,” read a statement released by Seabrooks. “Once that assessment has been completed I will be working with the department’s executive leadership and other key staff to implement any needed changes and to refocus our attention on reducing crime and the fear of crime in this community.”

ashley@www.smdp.com

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