The Desert Hot Springs city council must make a tough decision in the coming weeks. It will have to choose whether to stay with its current city-run police department or move to a contract with the Riverside County Sheriff's department.
More than 100 residents filled the city council chambers Tuesday ready to voice their opinion and hear pitches from RSO and the police department. "The public has a considerable amount of concern over this decision, it's a big decision, the council takes it very serious also," said mayor pro tem Russell Betts.
The council had initially said it hoped to make a decision by Tuesday's meeting, but city attorney Steve Quintanilla said a decision cannot be made until it meets and confers with the police officer's association.
The sheriff's department's presentation spelled out the services it could offer and more importantly to the cash-strapped city, at what cost. The minimum patrol deployment would cost the city $5.9 million.
During the presentation, Captain Kevin Vest recommended the city go for a plan that would cost $7.2 million. "There's a lot of cost that is shared equally amongst all the contract partners, so it does help stabilize a lot of different costs," said Captain Vest.
The sheriff's proposal became appealing to some members of the council because it could potentially save about $730,000 a year.
A large chunk of the $1.6 million it needs to cut from its "bare bones" budget because voters rejected Measure F, an increase on vacant parcel tax that would have helped fund public safety.
"It's a pretty tough deal to get over when you've got more officers on the street and a significant savings like that," said Betts.
The police department also gave its pitch met by support from several officers lining the wall and members of the community holding signs in favor of keeping its force. Many of them were upset that getting rid of the PD is even an option.
"It's extremely disheartening to all of us. It's disheartening to the POA members, to the community, business owners, it could affect everybody," said Mike Valentich, president of the DHS Police Officers' Association.
The police department's budgeted for $6.9 million in the new fiscal year. Despite what the city would save with RSO, some residents made it clear, they'd be losing something more important. "All of this community based policing could be in jeopardy," said Paul Miller. "Our citizens know our cops, they know them by name, and our cops know them by name."
City staff said they hope the council makes a decision before the end of the fiscal year on June 30. The council will meet again Thursday at 6PM.