Calif. PD to eliminate more than 24 positions due to COVID-19

The cuts will reduce the department's personnel by 20%, Police Chief Robert Jonsen said

Gennady Sheyner
Palo Alto Weekly

PALO ALTO, Calif. — Facing an unprecedented budget crisis, members of the Palo Alto City Council approved on Tuesday a series of steep cuts to police and fire services and clashed over whether to delay construction of long-planned infrastructure projects such as the new public-safety building and the fire station at Mitchell Park.

During a tumultuous meeting that stretched for 10 hours, the council voted 4-3 to reduce the budgets of the city's public safety departments by 9.1%, a move that will eliminate more than two dozen filled positions in the Palo Alto Police Department and force the Fire Department to increasingly rely on the county for ambulance services. The expenditures for the two departments and for the Office of Emergency Services are now set to be reduced from $84.9 million to $77.2 million.

The Palo Alto City Council voted to fire more than two dozen officers to make up for COVID-19 budget cuts. (Photo/TNS)
The Palo Alto City Council voted to fire more than two dozen officers to make up for COVID-19 budget cuts. (Photo/TNS)

In making the cuts, the council reserved the option of restoring some of the positions later in the budget process, when it also weighs additional cuts to its capital-improvement program. But even with that provision, Council members Liz Kniss and Lydia Kou each argued that the cuts go too far. Councilman Greg Tanaka also voted against the motion because it failed to incorporate his request that the city explore eliminating management and supervisor positions in public safety services.

Even those who supported the cuts did so with little enthusiasm. Mayor Adrian Fine called the public-safety cuts "a super tough pill to swallow" and called these services "our core obligation and responsibility in the community."

"But we're facing a very hard time and it's going to affect everything," Fine said.

Under the approved budget, the Police Department would see reductions in patrol operations, communications, dispatch and the investigations bureau. The department's recently created traffic-enforcement team would be eliminated and there would be reductions in animal control services.

In presenting the cuts, Police Chief Robert Jonsen noted that since 2003, the department has lost 23 positions over the course of various financial downturns and saw the number of full-time positions drop from 177 to 152.

"In one swipe, these cuts potentially will surpass all the steady reductions which have occurred over 17 years, reducing our department another 20%," Jonsen said.

The department has worked exceptionally hard to fill the vacancies, he said. When he joined the city, there were 13 vacancies; today there are four.

"These positions have been filled with outstanding candidates who are presently working their way through our academy or our field-training program," Jonsen said. "It would be a major setback if we had to let any of these individuals go and start from scratch."

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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