Claremont Insider: It Takes a Thief

Sunday, October 23, 2011

It Takes a Thief

These are the exactly questions I've been trying to answer.
Well you can try, but you never will.
Why?...You don't think like a criminal.  You don't have a criminal mind.
- Homicide: Life on the Streets,
Season 1, Episode 2 (1993)

The best detectives have, in their heart of hearts, at least a touch of larceny.  It's something they have to possess in order to be able to inhabit the criminal mind.  The difference is that they also have an ethical code that's absent in the criminals they hunt.

So maybe that same mentality is what makes an effective negotiator of Dieter Dammeier, the attorney representing the Claremont Police Officers Association (CPOA) in their ongoing contract talks with the City of Claremont. 

Of course, we have no idea what sort of officer Dammeier was before he started his law practice, back when he was employed by the Cypress Police Department.  We can only judge his public behavior now, behavior that of late strikes us as close to thuggery.

Wes Woods II reports in today's Daily Bulletin that an organization called the Committee of Police and Fire Associations Inspiring Responsible Elections (COPFIRE) recently sent Claremont City Councilmember Corey Calaycay a letter accusing him of failing make public safety (i.e., police salaries) a top priority.

The letter, a copy of which the Insider has obtained, stated:
You have been brought to our attention as someone we should actively oppose in future elections as a result of your failure to prioritize public safety in your position as a Claremont City Councilman. Specifically, we have been informed that under your watch, the number of sworn police officers working the streets of Claremont has been cut by 15%. Traffic Enforcement has been cut, the School Resource position has been reduced, the Investigations Division has been reduced to a point where there is no more active gang, graffiti or narcotics enforcement.

Judging from the tenor of the letter, Calaycay has really PO'd someone at COPFIRE. And who, exactly, are they? Apparently, they're a political action committee and are made up of representatives from various local police unions. COPFIRE's letterhead has a list of its board members, the first of whom is one Dieter Dammeier, who is listed as the PAC's "Fund Administrator."

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It's not too hard to figure out what's going on here. The CPOA and the City of Claremont have been deadlocked in contracted negotiations. For years, the city has paid the police officers' share of their CalPERS retirement contributions, 9% of the public safety employees' annual salary. As part of its ongoing efforts at ensuring fiscal responsibility, the City is now asking CPOA members to start paying that 9% themselves, as they should have been doing in the first place.

The City originally offered to have that change phased in over the next three years (3%, 3% and 3%). The other employee unions have already agreed to contracts with phased-in CalPERS payments. In the case of non-public safety employees it's 8% over three years.

The CPOA, led by Dammeier, have stated they will only accept the phased-in CalPERS payments if the City gives the police officers a 3% cost-of-living increase in their salaries, which would pretty much offset their CalPERS contributions. The City is offering 1.5% for cost of living adjustments (COLAs) for each of the next three years, something the city's other employee associations have already agreed to.

Because the two sides have been unable to reach an agreement, the City Council has announced that it will impose a one-year contract with 6% CalPERS contribution for the police. That matter is on the council's agenda for their Tuesday night meeting. Dammeier clearly thinks he can strong-arm the council by trying to intimidate Calaycay, though Dammeier denied that in the Bulletin article today, saying that the letter and its timing were unrelated to the upcoming meeting.

COPFIRE, incidentally, has no Claremont PD members. The letter in question was signed by Arcadia Police Detective Mike Hale, who is a COPFIRE board member. Dammeier and COPFIRE clearly don't have a very good understanding of Claremont, or at least of the people who vote in our municipal elections. In this town it's very bad form for an outsider to tell us what to do, especially when it comes to COPFIRE's sort of bullying.

Interestingly, none of the other four councilmembers received a COPFIRE letter.  Only Calaycay did. In today's Bulletin article, Dieter Dammeier responded to Woods' question about COPFIRE singling out Councilmember Calaycay:
Dammeier said Calaycay was targeted because he has run in the past for the Assembly.
But, that doesn't really account for Councilmember Joe Lyons, who himself sought a seat in the state legislature when he ran for the California State Senate in 2008. If the justification for an outside PAC like COPFIRE going after a councilmember is the concern about what they might do at state level, then Lyons should have received a COPFIRE threat. Yet he did not.

Here's the actual letter in question (it's public record, so you can get your own copy at City Hall, if you're interested):

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Boss Dammeier, with
  an offer you can't refuse

Dammeier's tactics should come as no surprise. In February, we predicted Dammeier and the CPOA would pull something like this.  And Dammeier's website lays out Dieter's philosophy:
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.

In other works, walk tall and carry a big baton.

One of the arguments CPOA's members have made is that their work is different from that of other city employees, so they should receive different, better compensation.

Mayor Pro Tem Larry Schroeder, who says he wants to treat all employees fairly, took issue with the CPOA's reasoning and was quoted Claremont Courier on 10/8/11, saying:
"Employees are all paid according to their amount of responsibility, and certainly policemen are compensated for working holidays and different shifts," Mr. Schroeder said. "Being a former city employee myself, I understand that people get paid different wages, and I think policemen are fairly compensated for that."

The police have been been doing their best to refute Schroeder and have followed Dammeier's lead with scare tactics, claiming that they are overworked and underpaid. They claim, among other things, that the ranks of the CPD's street cops have been reduced 15%, implying that crime is on the rise and we are in perilous state. However, the police fail to mention that, in the long term, crime has generally been on the decline in most areas, not just Claremont. They also don't want the public to consider the possibility that the number of police was bloated in the first place, at least for a community of 35,000.

The police have also brought up things like the reductions in graffiti enforcement and gang unit staff, but they don't acknowledge such that gang activity in Claremont is extremely low. Similarly, they claim the auto theft task force has suffered because of the city's cutbacks, which is a lot of hogwash. Claremont doesn't have a separate auto theft task force. The LA County Sheriff's Office is in charge of coordinating the Taskforce for Regional Autotheft Prevention (TRAP), a multi-jurisdictional entity funded by vehicle license fees, and TRAP hasn't gone away at all.

Virtually every claim the CPOA and Dammeier have made has only one goal, a political one designed to get citizens to put pressure on the Claremont City Council to cave into CPOA's demands. Our bet is that they've greatly misjudged Claremonters and that they've overreached.

We'll find out Tuesday night how well Dammeier has read the political terrain. The City Council's regular session begins at 6:30 pm in the council chambers at 225 W. 2nd St. in the Claremont Village.  You can also watch it here.