Garden Grove recruiting 16 officers and support staff with money from new sales tax

By Greg Hardesty

Stretched to the limit over the last two decades, the Garden Grove PD is recruiting 16 additional police officers and support personnel, thanks to a 1-cent local sales tax overwhelmingly approved by voters in November 2018.

The hiring drive — for 11 sworn positions and five professional staffers – was made possible by the passage of “Measure O,” and comes at a critical time as Garden Grove’s population continues to grow and criminal activity, particularly property crimes, continues to rise.

The new positions, which still have to be approved by the City Council as part of the budget process, are part of a public safety enhancement plan that also calls for a new PD facility to replace five cramped and aging buildings spread around the city, and the creation of a Measure O Community Oversight Committee.

“Today’s a great day for the Garden Grove Police Department,” Police Chief Todd Elgin said at a Dec. 18 news conference, at which he and city officials detailed components of the plan.

Measure O, projected to generate about $19 million in annual revenue for public safety and other vital city services, will go into effect April 1.

Funds will not be available until July 1.

But city officials have given the GGPD the green light to recruit now.

Recruiting, testing, and the police academy usually takes a total of about 10-12 months to complete.

“The City of Garden Grove is supporting the community by immediately putting the public safety plan into motion,” Mayor Steve Jones said at the news conference. “This plan is critical to maintaining the safety of our community and lessening the load on an already overstretched police department that we continue to place constant demands upon.

“I’m confident that by the start of the next fiscal year (July 1, 2019), Garden Grove will be in a much better position to provide exceptional police protection to the community.”

The GGPD is recruiting 10 full-time police officers, one full-time sergeant, and five police support personnel: dispatchers, records specialists, and community service officers.

One sworn officer will be dedicated to the agency’s homeless task force, which currently has two full-time officers.

Diversity will be a key in the recruitment process, officials said. Of particular value are recruits who speak Vietnamese, Korean, or Spanish.

UNDERSTAFFED

In 1998, the GGPD had a peak number of 175 sworn officers.

Today, 20 years later, it has 168, despite the hiring of a total of 46 officers over the last two years, said Lt. Carl Whitney, head of the Professional Standards Unit. Early retirements are the major reason behind the shortfall, he said.

Early retirements also have left the GGPD with a half-dozen or so professional staff vacancies, Whitney said.

Despite being short staffed for decades, the GGPD has been able to provide quality law enforcement services for its 180,000 residents, Elgin said.

“We still ‘mash’ — we still continue to march and get the job done,” Elgin said. “I’m so proud of this police department, and I’m so proud of the work that these men and women do.”

Garden Grove residents undoubtedly agree, as evidenced by the overwhelming passage of Measure O.

“I think the vote is a result of the work that you guys in this room do,” Elgin said, referring to the GGPD officers and other agency personnel who attended the news conference at City Hall.

“We’re not the richest city in Orange County, and our officers are doing a lot with what they’ve been given,” City Manager Scott Stiles said. “And when you speak with our residents, you realize how much respect that they have for our officers, and that’s a testament to the great work of Chief Elgin, our police association, and all of the men and women working in our department.”

From left, Garden Grove Councilwoman Kim Nguyen,Mayor Steve Jones, City Manager Scott Stiles, Mayor Pro Tem Stephanie Klopfenstein, and Councilman George Brietigam. Photo courtesy of Garden Grove PD

For Elgin, who is expected to retire next month after 30 years with the GGPD, the passage of Measure 0 is a major accomplishment.

“I want to thank the community for their vote,” Elgin said. “I want to thank the City Council for taking a chance and allowing us to get this on the ballot and actually bringing it to the people.”

Elgin successfully got the ear of Stiles and other city officials to get behind Measure O.

“I appreciate you listening,” Elgin said of Stiles, “because I think a lot of city managers would not have done that.”

Stiles thanked the community “for showing confidence in the city to use Measure O revenues to ensure that great services will continue to be provided.

“We sincerely appreciate it, and we do not take the community support for granted. More than anything else, we want to say thank you to the community today.”

Elgin said putting more officers on the street will have a huge impact on the GGPD.

“What this allows us to do is not only deal with (ongoing criminal activity), which we’ve been doing quite well, but it also will allow us to get back and start doing problem solving, which we were recognized for back in the early 1990s when Good Housekeeping magazine named us one of the nation’s best community policing organizations.

“Right now, we spend more time trying to fight crime and trying to keep a handle on crime, as opposed to going into neighborhoods and actually solving some of the community-based problems, whether it be blight, whether it be gang issues, whether it be getting kids to participate in school.

“This will allow us to get back into those communities and actually do some real problem solving, and that’s exciting for us. We get to get back to being a true community policing organization. That’s not to say that we haven’t been that, because we certainly have, but it allows us to be more effective and more efficient.”

The GGPD has eight recruits currently in the academy, with four expected to graduate this month, Whitney said. The other four are expected to graduate inMarch.

Stiles said a team has been established to begin drafting an RFP (request for proposal) that will give the city a roadmap for how and where PD facilities need to be designed for the next 30 years.

“There are firms out there that specialize in space planning and architectural design for public safety buildings, and we need to solicit their support,” Stiles said.

Elgin said the PD definitely needs a new building.

“I think if we hired 10 or 15 more cops tomorrow,” he said, “we couldn’t fit them in the building. We’re looking for an up-to-date facility that will meet our needs well into the future.”

Elgin said the GGPD will put Measure O dollars to good use.

“We will assess (our budget needs) from year to year, and I promise you the services that you get from this police department will get better and better as time goes on,” he said.

For more information about Measure O, as well as future updates to the public safety plan, visit the City’s website at http://www.ggcity.org