From reading the local papers one would think we in Claremont are in the midst of a crime wave. The February 12 edition of the Claremont Courier carried an article about a Claremont Police Department neighborhood meeting organized by resident Jim Keith. The Courier didn't identify Keith fully - he and his wife Sue are firmly ensconced in the ranks of the Claremont 400, a/k/a the Pod People, and Sue holds the 400's seat on the Citrus College Board of Trustees.
The article, by Courier reporter Tony Krickl, said that Keith organized the meeting in response to a burglary at the Keiths' home in March 2010. It turned out that three other homes on the same street had been burglarized that same day. The article went on to say that, "According to police, nearly 30 burglaries have been reported in southwest Claremont since August."
And the upsurge in crime hasn't been confined to South Claremont. The same Courier edition had a police blotter item reporting that 17 vehicles were burglarized in North Claremont in the evening and morning hours of February 6-7.
So what gives? How is it that at a time when crime is supposed to be down nationwide, Claremont has become perp central?
A HISTORY LESSON
We're beginning to think that at least a portion of this crime wave may be due to the confluence of the March city council election and the City's upcoming negotiations with the Claremont Police Officers Association (CPOA). It certainly wouldn't be the first time Claremont employees inserted themselves into an election.
Back in 2005, Preserve Claremont supporters carried on a two-pronged attack to try to prevent current council person Corey Calaycay from being election. The first goal was to go after council person Jackie McHenry, who had been elected two years earlier as a reform candidate. The second was to tie Calaycay to McHenry with the use of full-page ads in the Courier, public comment at council meetings, and letters to the editors of the local newspapers.
Then-City Manager Glenn Southard (photo, right) and some of his senior staff, including Southard's Assistant City Manager Bridget Healy, worked behind the scenes to feed information to the PCers, which they then used to publicly pressure McHenry, as well as Calaycay's campaign. In January, 2005, in the middle of the municipal election season, four of the City's employee unions submitted a joint, written complaint against McHenry, whom Southard had accused of harassing employees, thereby creating a hostile work environment. The employee complaint was, of course, run as an ad in the Courier.
It's important to note that all the details in the complaint were based on hearsay, and none were ever substantiated. Southard tried to have McHenry censured, but he backed off when it became clear that there was a chance of a real, independent investigation into the charges. Not coincidentally, two of the four employee unions that signed onto the joint complaint against McHenry happened to be in contract negotiations with Southard and the City.
So, given the community's fairly recent experience with city employees and election games, when we see some of the same PCers, including the now-retired Bridget Healy, stoking fears of a crime wave driven by staff reductions caused by budget constraints, we have to at least take a second look.
Healy's friend and supporter Barbara Musselman has been among those who've complained about current City Manager Jeff Parker's cuts, which she and former council member Sandy Baldonado claim were one of the driving reasons behind CPD Chief Paul Cooper's applying to Glendora for their top cop job.
A number of the same people and their present candidate of choice, Robin Haulman, have claimed that we've rolled back police staffing to 1984 levels. They neglect to tell us that crime has also rolled back, at least according to last year's CPD stats, and Part I crimes (violent crimes and property crimes) dropped 23% between 2008 and 2009. We'll have to wait until March to see what the 2010 crime numbers look like.
Healy, et. al., also don't like to tell us that, while police staffing has dropped to 1984 levels, the costs of safety employees' have soared, in part due to overly generous pension benefits (3% at 50) for which Healy and Baldonado are responsible.
All of this leaves City Manager Parker in an awkward negotiating position with regards to the CPOA's contract. Because of the state of the economy, as well as Sacramento threat to go after redevelopment agencies, the City has to watch every penny, and Parker will need to take a hard line with the police union. But, at the same time, he has people like Healy and Musselman undercutting him by trying to frighten residents with talk about the allegedly weakened state of Claremont's PD.
If the public pressure gets great enough and if Healy and Musselman get a majority on the council that they can control, then Parker will have to roll over for the police union.
ON ADVICE OF COUNSEL?
And where, exactly, does the CPOA fit into all of these machinations?
More than one reader has pointed us to the website of the CPOA's counsel, Upland attorney and former CPD officer Dieter Dammeier, whose office is in Upland. Dammeier (photo, above) has apparently carved out a niche as a public safety employee contract negotiator.
Dammeier's website makes it clear that to have the strongest negotiating positions, police unions need to pursue a political strategy, as well as a kind of public relations program to shape (skew?) public perception about their safety. It's the sort of fear-based strategy that the Claremont 400 and their political arm, Preserve Claremont, love to use.
The attorney's website has posted a blueprint for dealing with stalled contract negotiations that states:
The association should be like a quiet giant in the position of, "do as I ask and don't piss me off." Depending on the circumstances surrounding the negotiations impasse, there are various tools available to an association to put political pressure on the decision makers.And:
Always keep this in mind. The public could care less about your pay, medical coverage and pension plan. All they want to know is "what is in it for them." Any public positions or statements by the association should always keep that focus. The message should always be public safety first. You do not want wage increases for yourselves, but simply to attract better qualified candidates and to keep more experienced officers from leaving.
Storm City Council - While an association is at impasse, no city council or governing board meeting should take place where members of your association and the public aren't present publicly chastising them for their lack of concern for public safety.
Here the CPOA have the advantage of being able to have civilians like Sandy Baldonado or Barbara Musselman do the chastising. Dammeier's negotiation training materials go on to say:
Press Conferences - Every high profile crime that takes place should result in the association's uproar at the governing body for not having enough officers on the street, which could have avoided the incident.
The website counsels police unions to take more time to complete their activities (this would generate concerns or complaints about lowered response times and reinforce concerns about public safety):
Work Slowdown - This involves informing your members to comply closely with Department policy and obey all speed limits. It also involves having members do thorough investigations, such as canvassing the entire neighborhood when taking a 459 report and asking for a back-up unit on most calls. Of course, exercising officer discretion in not issuing citations and making arrests is also encouraged.
And Dammeier tells his clients to get involved in local elections:
Campaigning - If any members of the governing body are up for election, the association should begin actively campaigning against them, again for their lack of concern over public safety. If you are in a non-election year, make political flyers which you can explain will be mailed out the following year during the election season.
In the present election, the CPOA is using its influence to try to undermine any candidate who might support an attempt by City Manager Parker to negotiate a CPOA contract that would rein in police salaries and pensions.
The website also says police employees should remember to get their message out, even if they have to pay for newspaper space:
Newspaper Ads - Again, keep the message focused on "public safety."
All of which places the CPOA's activities in proper perspective. The February 12 Courier also carried a small CPOA ad endorsing three city council candidates: Robin Haulman, Joseph Lyons, and Sam Pedroza:
We can't help but think how nice it would be if we got to hire our own bosses. Who wouldn't go for a deal like that? We rail against businesses that try to influence elections by supporting candidates, so how is this any different? In dealing with contract issues, we want council people who are impartial, not ones beholden to or afraid of their employees.
The ad raises some big conflict of interest concerns for the three chosen ones. When it comes down to the CPOA's contract negotiations later this year, if elected, would Haulman, Lyons and Pedroza place the CPOA's wants above the City's fiscal well-being?
But, as we say, none of this is new to Claremont. The lines between employer and employee get blurred constantly, and the Claremont 400 ideal is a kind of vertical integration of council and staff, hence their desire to have Bridget Healy on the council or to have a native Claremonter like Paul Cooper running the police department. They fail to see the need to have checks and balances built into the system and want staff, council and commissions to be one, with the result that dissenting voices and ideas are disregarded, poor decisions get made and staff are vulnerable to pressure from the 400.
The 400 wants us to forget the past, but one must look in the rear view mirror once in while to avoid the kind of costly and divisive crises we've had before.