PUBLIC SAFETY – MBPD authorized to hire seven new officers
by Mark McDermott
The Manhattan Beach Police Department was authorized by the City Council Tuesday night to hire seven new officers and three additional civilian personnel.
MBPD Chief Rachel Johnson recommended the hires, which were unanimously approved by the Council. The new hires, when completed, will increase the number of sworn officers from 65 to 72. The 10 new positions will cost an estimated $1.5 million annually.
“The safety of our community is our first and highest priority. These changes to the police department will help the City achieve our goal in keeping our residents, visitors, and businesses safe,” Mayor Steve Napolitano said. “Council shares the concerns of our community regarding rising crime and we’re adding the resources to address it — more officers, more patrols, and more support. I’m confident that the police chief’s proactive strategies to increase staffing levels will have a positive impact on the community.”
Johnson is a newly hired chief who took the helm of the department in August. The council last November asked Johnson to explore adding armed private security to patrol downtown, and then in December requested that she look into the possibility of contracting with outside law enforcement agencies to provide more police presence in Manhattan Beach. When neither of these options proved workable, Councilperson David Lesser asked her to examine increasing MBPD staffing. Her report and recommendations Tuesday arose from that request, as well as ongoing concerns in the community regarding rising crime.
Johnson told the council that seven factors were used to examine current staffing levels — crime trends, per capita officer ratios, officers per shift, the department budget, workload analysis, similar agency staffing, and community expectations. She said no one factor best determines how many officers are needed, but rather a larger calculus that takes all these factors into consideration.
“Determining police department staffing levels is quite a bit of art and a little bit of science,” Johnson said.
“Some residents have asked, has the Manhattan Beach Police Department been understaffed to match rising crime?” Lesser said. “Is that not one of the drivers here?
“The answer is no,” Johnson said. “We are able to meet our core function. But this additional staff would allow us to meet some of our community requests for more engagement. I’d like to see more officers on bicycles. I would like to see more officers on foot…. We need additional staffing to arrest career criminals and to conduct surveillance and other means to provide a shorter path from investigation to arrest. We are certainly able to do that now, but this would increase our bandwidth and our capacity to do that more efficiently.”
The hires will address both increased patrols and attention to crime trends. The additional personnel will allow for the formation of a Crime Impact Group, consisting of a sergeant, and three officers who will be tasked with surveillance, following leads, identifying suspects, and composing warrants, all of which Johnson believes will result in more arrests. A new sergeant position will not be created; instead, a sergeant currently assigned for traffic and parking control will be moved to the Crime Impact Group, and a new civilian supervisor position will be created with expertise in parking enforcement, animal and traffic control, and community quality of life concerns.
Four of the new officer positions will form a bike patrol, something Johson was particularly enthusiastic about, noting it would be based in MBPD’s Community Affairs section and help build new partnerships within the community.
“The addition of a full-time bicycle patrol consisting of four officers would allow us to have the consistent, focused engagement of our community,” she told the Council. “…This bicycle patrol will provide high visibility in residential and commercial areas while also patrolling areas that are difficult to patrol on vehicles, such as the bike path, high-density traffic locations, and small streets and alleys.”
“They’d have essentially the same function as patrol officers — they’ll just be on bicycles,” Johnson added. “It allows them to slow down and see more things than you can take in in a car. It allows them to get off their bikes and walk a little bit here and there to see what things are going on in our community. So you will see more people in the field through our bicycle patrol.”
Another new civilian position will be assigned background checks, work currently performed on a part-time basis by retired officers. The third new civilian position will provide administrative assistance to detectives, thus allowing them to focus on their work in the field.
Finance Director Steve Charelian said a likely means of funding the new positions would be by the increase in the Transit Occupancy Tax revenue, following voter approval of Measure A in 2019.
“The entire measure was based on public safety — police, fire, Public Works, streets and those types of things — and this is a perfect fit for that measure,” Charelian said. “We’ve only used 2 percent of the up to 4 percent that was approved in 2019, and so we have that capacity to go [up] an additional 2, which will take our Transit Occupancy Tax rate to 14 percent, which is comparable to local cities.”
Mayor Pro Tem Richard Montgomery said the $1.4 million price tag was more than palatable.
“Someone asked, can you afford this $1.5 million?” he said. “The opposite. The answer should be, we cannot afford not to do it.”
Montgomery made the motion to approve the hires. It was seconded by Councilperson Amy Howorth.
“We need to feel safe in our community, and we need to be safe,” Howorth said. “And one of the things that we always pride ourselves on is ‘no call is too small,’ right? I think what we’re seeing with crime trends, for whatever reasons, is the calls are getting a little bigger. Accordingly, so should our police department.” ER