Hemet’s police and fire chiefs have begun the process of recruiting new firefighters and police officers even though the recently passed Measure U one-cent sales tax collections won’t begin until April 1. The sales tax revenues are to be used only for city public safety departments, specifically for the fire and police departments.
Police Chief David Brown and Fire Chief Scott Brown presented their preliminary department expansion plans to the Hemet City Council Nov. 15, explaining they were going to begin recruiting immediately, if the council approved. It takes time to find the qualified and trained police officers and firefighters they are seeking. In the past few weeks the chiefs and city staff have been putting together a comprehensive fire and police department spending budget for the next five years. Their plans for the first year are scheduled to be presented to the council Tuesday, Dec. 13. The two newly elected city council members Karlee Meyer and Michael Perciful will be sworn into office and will weigh in on the important Measure U expenditure discussion.
In addition to the public safety department’s planning discussion the council is expected to provide applications for members of the community who would like to serve on a Measure U oversite committee. The committee is slated to assure that the sales tax money collected through the Measure U general tax measure is spent only for the community’s public safety needs, holding this, and future councils to its singular public safety purpose for the 10-year lifetime of the measure.
The Hemet City website at www.cityofhemet.org under the police department shows a police recruiting poster and message as to the city’s advantages. It is offering a $10,000 signing bonus to experienced officers and deputies seeking lateral transfers.
Police Chief Brown, following the passage of Measure U, said his first effort will be to add 16 police officers, two sergeants and a lieutenant to the police force in 2017. He said the “troop surge” will bring the department closer to its manpower goal of the 90 officers desired in the department. The department now has 65 officers on its payroll. The recent recession cost the department 35 officers because of necessary city revenue cuts. Since then crime and homelessness in the city has increased with the population growth.
Fire Chief Scott Brown, even before Measure U was passed, opened three battalion chief positions to help establish a formal command structure and will begin the search for three qualified captains. A state audit, called for by the council, criticized the fire department and city’s emergency medical services, saying its lack of personal and command structure was putting the city into an “at risk” category. Again, the department suffered severe cutbacks, including several battalion chiefs and paramedic firefighters, during the recession.
“You have to understand,” Chief Brown said. “We have a foundation that was broken. Now it is very important to deliver what we have been talking about (since Measure U passed).” He said the three most critical things the fire department needs to do now is to assure the safety of the city’s police and firefighters, improve their response times and support the residents of the community during fire and medical emergencies.
With the Measure U funds, now certain to be coming, Chief Brown said he has been working on a “two phase plan,” the first phase from January to July 2017 and the second phase from July to December 2017. The plans will include a request for special budget allocations that will “jump-start the process,” he said.
In the first phase he seeks to add the three captains, three engineers, three firefighters and a full-time, emergency services coordinator. Recruiting for these positions will begin Dec. 15 with the council’s approval. He said the department will also be creating a “milestone event” by adding two fire department dispatchers to emergency communication operations and create a full-time emergency services coordinator. Also, the department will replace its captain’s pickup truck with a state of the art command vehicle with a complete emergency equipment package.
He said the department plans to open all city fire stations with the new captains and firefighters. Station 5 will be reopened with a captain and a special EMS unit to answer calls during what he called, “peak demand” times in the city from 8 to 10 p.m. “There is no need to go to every call with red lights and sirens,” he said. The special EMS unit will free up the other stations to handle most of the calls that turn out to be non-emergencies. The new fire department dispatchers will determine just how much of an “emergency” the call warrants and send in the right emergency response.
“This will set the stage for getting the boots on the ground we need,” Chief Brown said, speaking of both fire and police departments.
More details of the police and fire departments first-year plans will be discussed at the Dec. 13 city council meeting that begins at 7 p.m. in the council chambers behind the police department at Buena Vista and Latham streets.