BANNING, Calif. - The unrest at the Banning police department continues to grow, some of it stemming from a lack of communication. "Not just with the police department but throughout the city, we need more communication," said Mayor Debbie Franklin.
An internal investigation is underway after the department acquired a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, or MRAP, in September. Banning PD was in the news after it crashed the armored fighting vehicle in Arizona. The MRAP hit a pickup truck and the city has been charged more than $40,000 in insurance fees.
The city manager and city council say they never approved the vehicle.
"Not something you expect to hear, not knowing that we had such a vehicle," said Mayor Franklin.
The MRAP was just one subject the Banning Police Officers Association addressed at a public meeting on Tuesday night. About 55 people including the mayor and members of city council attended the meeting.
Officers from the union answered questions from the crowd as well as bringing up some of their own concerns. The major concern stems from understaffing. The union says the department's 24 sworn officers are not enough to keep more than 30,000 residents safe.
Also, according to the union, in 2007 the department had 44 officers. "It puts officers at risk and puts the public at risk, because we're not able to respond to calls in a timely manner a lot of the time," said Corporal Brandon Smith, a member of the board and of the department.
Many of those in attendance were taken aback by the understaffing issue. "We're a band-aid police department," said Bob Little. "As they said, if they're reactive, and that's the police officers association saying, all we can do is react to the calls."
Mayor Franklin disagrees and believes her city's safe. She also said the budget will not allow them to hire more officers. "It doesn't make sense to try and hire people when you don't have the money to pay them and to go into debt for something you can't pay for," said Mayor Franklin.
The department also continues to function without the guidance of a chief. Former chief Leonard Purvis went on a leave of absence in October, before being hired by the sheriff's department in December. His role has been split between two lieutenants in the interim.
The process of hiring a new chief is also creating a rift between the union and city leaders. The city council wants a say in the new chief while the union wants the power to remain with the city manager with guidance from officers.
"We start to get to a spot of micro-managing," said Corporal Smith. "Where the council has more of a say in how the police department's run on a day to day basis."
While Banning's elected officials and its police department search for the middle ground on several issues, residents made a simple plea to both. "Let's protect our people, let's follow contracts, let's find some money," said Little.
The council's desire to be included in the chief hiring process is on the council's agenda for its meeting on January 14.